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The Criminal Element
By   -  1999

EPILOGUE

"So that's it then," the Captain said, slamming the report down with such force that the folder flew open and papers scattered across her desk. "Everyone seems to know about this woman but us. Do you know what the President said to me?"

"Which one?" Zack asked, aware that Lochley had spoken to both Presidents Luchenko and Sheridan sometime in the past couple of hours. He had been too busy mopping us the mess left behind by Jeanne and her rather spectacular departure from the station to keep tabs on the actual conversations.

"Luchenko," Lochley replied angrily. "She told me that she understood my concerns, but that in the interest of the continued wellbeing of the Earth Alliance she couldn't tell me any more."

"Perhaps she is telling the truth," Zack commented. "I've been talking to...."

"I don't care if she is or not," Lochley interrupted angrily. "My station has been turned upside down and I would like a better explanation, than 'Sorry, it's a matter of Alliance security.' We have at least three dead, even more wounded. Someone has blown a hole in the station, I have to try and replace one of our fighters, and after all that the culprit still managed to escape."

"I don't think we had much choice, Captain. If we had tried to prevent her leaving, that war cruiser would have sliced us apart. Hell, a ship that size, it only had to collide with us and we'd have all been dead."

"I know that, Mr. Allan," Lochley said, a little quieter now. "I'm just mad she escaped, especially after the President spent nearly half an hour complaining that we didn't arrest this woman. Not that she sent any Earthforce ships to assist. In fact, the entire fleet appears to be busy on the other side of the Alliance. It's almost as though they knew this was going to happen and were staying out of the way and letting us deal with it."

"That sounds more like Earth," Zack smiled. "What did President Sheridan say? Any more luck there?"

"He said he will look into it, but short of sending the White Star fleet into Vorlon space to search for the war cruiser there isn't a lot he can do either."

"Are we certain the war cruiser was headed towards Vorlon space?"

Lochley nodded. "Earthdome was able to confirm that, although they were very short of details. The last reading put it on a direct heading for the border of the Vorlon Empire. There may not be any Vorlons left, but I think this shows there is still something going on out there."

"It could be something to look into," Zack agreed. "Although, I would prefer it if someone else did the looking."

"I agree," Lochley said. "Although I'd like to know exactly what that woman was. She obviously wasn't human."

"I'm not so certain about that, Captain," Zack replied. "She did say that she had once served the Vorlons. I've been talking to Dr. Matsuki, the alien biology specialist that Dr. Hobbs asked to look into the blood-like substance you found in Grey 19. He has a theory you might find interesting."

"Go on."

"He thinks that Jeanne may have once been as human as you or I, but she has been altered by the Vorlons. Remember Lyta, and how powerful she was. I think this Jeanne was another of the Vorlon's weapons. She almost said as much herself. Dr. Matsuki has discovered that her blood has remarkable regenerative properties, which was how she was able to survive being plunged into space. It also appears to able to synthesise or absorb, the doctor wasn't too clear on this point light and heat, which would explain why our weapons didn't work."

"This doesn't explain why everyone was so interested in her."

"Well, apart from the fortune in gem stones I discovered near the scene of the last... incident, Dr. Matsuki also has a theory on that too. It's only a theory at the moment, and he can't test it unless he gets another sample of her blood, but he thinks that it is possible for her blood to supplement and replace human blood."

"I'm not sure I understand," Lochley frowned. "Why is that important?"

"Think about it, Captain. If her blood was what made her so powerful, and a simple transfusion could pass those abilities on to any human. Wouldn't that be worth fighting over?"

"It would," Lochley agreed. "That would explain Mr. Luchenko's actions, but it still doesn't excuse her own actions on this station."

"She didn't really hurt anyone," Zack argued.

"Tell that to the three corpses down in the morgue," Lochley snapped. "Not to mention Ambassador Vizhak. He wasted no time running to my door to complain about the latest atrocities committed against his people."

Zack reached into his pocket as tossed a data crystal onto the desk. "Next time you see Vizhak, give him that," he told Lochley. "That should shut him up."

"What is it?"

"A recording showing the murder of his aide," Zack replied. "It seems another of his assistants was responsible, most likely an attempt to rise through the ranks by eliminating the aide and taking his place. At least one of the Drazi killed today was also implicated on the recording and I'm close to arresting the whole gang responsible for initiating this carnage in the first place. I have a rather nasty looking character called Lynx Riesel locked up in the brig. With what we've got on him, I'm expecting him to sing like a bird in an attempt save himself from a mindwipe. With any luck, we should have j'Nialth and the rest of his gang in a cell in a day or two."

"Well, that's one piece of good news," Lochley agreed. "I don't like the way this was allowed to happen though. That woman should have been picked up in customs before she even got onto the station. Shouldn't the scanner have detected that her Identicard was a fake?"

"It should have," Zack agreed. "I don't know how that slipped past us. I suspect it was probably a very good fake. Every time we come up with some new security measure, someone eventually finds a way past it. However, I'm getting one of the tech boys to look at it. Hopefully we will have solution shortly."

"Good. I wouldn't like to think that any criminal could sneak onto the station."

Zack almost laughed. "If only it were that simple, Captain. This station has always had a criminal element, and I don't think that is about to change. All we can do is try and keep it under control."

"Yes, hopefully you will, Mr. Allan. I've had quite enough killing and destruction for a while."

Lynx looked up as the door opened, the uniformed figures of two security guards filling the opening. "On your feet," the taller of the two men ordered, tapping his shock stick against the wall. "You have a visitor."

A thin, red-haired girl was ushered into the cell. "Hello, darling," she said, her voice quivering a little as if she was afraid of something. Lynx almost ruined the girl's act by frowning, before he realised that this must be some attempt by j'Nialth to get in contact with him, probably to warn him to be quiet while the Thrakallan arranged his release. "I bought you a cake," the girl said, holding out a small plate with a half-eaten chocolate cake on it.

"We had to taste it though," the security officer cut in. "Check for files and that sort of thing." He waved a flask around in front of Lynx. "Had to confiscate the whiskey too," he grinned. "Pity, it was a really nice drop." His companion laughed at that comment, and then both guards left, shutting and locking the door behind them.

Lynx waited until he heard their footsteps receding and then turned on the girl. "What is j'Nialth planning?" he whispered urgently. "When do I get out of here?"

"I don't know," the girl stuttered. "I was just paid to bring you the cake, nothing more. J'Nialth said to give it to you and tell you to eat it."

"Why?"

"I don't know," she almost cried. "J'Nialth just said to get you to eat it and you would be out of here soon."

Lynx could see she was frightened and realising that she was just a Lurker j'Nialth had hired for some reason. "Try some of the cake," he said with an encouraging smile, before adding in a quieter voice, "Make it looks like we are sharing it. We don't want to arouse the guard's suspicions do we now?"

The girl shook her head and took a slice of the chocolate cake, daintily nibbling at one end, although Lynx could see she was starving and probably hadn't eaten in days. He also picked up a slice and took a bite. It was surprisingly good and he wondered what j'Nialth was up to. Then, he felt a strange numbness affecting him and he realised what was going on. Leaping up, he started banging on the door. He tried to speak, but his tongue was starting to swell and affect his speech. He could see the girl was also similarly effected, clutching at her throat as the poison continued to work its way into her system. Of course, the guards hadn't been affected because j'Nialth had thoughtfully put the antidote in the flask of whisky, knowing it was the first thing the guards would sample.

Now clawing at his own throat in an attempt to force himself to breathe, Lynx dropped to his knees. 'You bastard, j'Nialth,' he thought, as he collapsed onto the floor of the cold metal cell, his life quickly slipping away as the merciless poison began to eat away at his internal organs. He cursed himself for his stupidity in trusting j'Nialth. He should have been immediately suspicious of anything the Thrakallan sent him, but now it was too late. His breath now a dry rattle, the sound of a quickly approaching death, Lynx Riesel closed his eyes and sank into the darkness and the only comfort he could take in his death was that at least Zack Allan wouldn't have the chance to grill him for information. 

Aragon Pernimi sat quietly at the bar, sipping a glass of some unidentifiable human beverage... and nursing the worst headache he had ever experienced. He wouldn't have minded so much if it had been due to an excess of alcohol, he would have been used to that. But to have some alien monstrosity attempt to fry his mind, that left him in a very foul mood indeed. If it hadn't been for the fact that he had erected powerful shields to hide him from any telepathic pursuers he still wasn't sure about that woman. The way she blocked his scan was too easy, she must have possessed telepathic powers and he was sure the humans had at least one telepath on the station he might not have survived the mental blast at all.

Sighing, he placed his empty glass down on the bar and slid it towards the greenish-brown blur he assumed was j'Nialth. He still wasn't sure how he had made it here, but suspected that the Thrakallan must have carried him, and he didn't even want to know what he owed the crime lord for that! At least the drink had restored him a little and his vision was beginning to recover. When he had first regained consciousness, he hadn't been able to see a thing, a side effect of such a powerful telepathic assault, but slowly his vision was recovering, along with his other senses.

J'Nialth's insectoid face swam into view, and for a moment, Aragon almost imagined that he saw a touch of concern on the Thrakallan's impassive features. "Are you better?" j'Nialth asked cautiously, handing the telepath another glass of the peculiar amber liquid.

Aragon quickly downed the drink, placing the glass back down on the bar. "Much better," he replied, almost smiling. Then his face turned sombre. "What happened?" he asked.

"You fell," j'Nialth answered. "I bought you here."

"Why?"

The Thrakallan paused before answering, reaching down and adjusting something on his translation device. There was a faint click and tiny light on top of the device changed from amber to deep blue. When he spoke again, his voice was now in Centauri instead of English. "I have need of you," he told Aragon.

Aragon shook his head. "No way," he answered. "I've done what you ask, now I want my ticket off this place. If I stay here, I'll be dead before the week is out."

"You will be protected," j'Nialth replied, waving his claw to indicate the room around them.

Aragon glanced around, noticing for the first time the number of security personal in the room. Most were clustered around a series of rectangular tables near the end of the room, hitting multicoloured balls around with long sticks. The lighting was dim and there was the sort of smoky ambiance that he normally associated with bars in the poor quarter on Centauri Prime. "What is this place?" he asked.

"It is my new bar," j'Nialth answered, a note of pride sneaking past the translator. "Here I will run my business untroubled by ruffians like that fool Lynx."

"Where is Lynx?" Aragon asked, noticing for the first time that the violent lieutenant seemed to be missing.

"He is... missing," j'Nialth replied. "Security took him, but my servants disposed of him in his cell. He should be found by them soon. He was no longer useful, but you are."

"How?"

J'Nialth almost seemed to smile then. Of course, his impassive insectoid face wasn't capable of Centauri facial expressions, but Aragon was sure that if the Thrakallan had possessed a Centauri face then he would have been grinning from ear to ear. He waved one claw around to indicate the room. "Security," he said, pointing to one of the officers. Then he indicated Aragon. "Telepath." While he left Aragon to sort out the details, he filled another glass and handed it across to the telepath.

"It has possibilities," Aragon mused, accepting the full glass and sitting back to watch the crowd around him. "Mollari would have to go past half the station's security to get to me. I would be as safe as anywhere. But, apart from that, what's in it for me?"

J'Nialth reached down and retrieved a small box. "Many credits," he promised, opening the box to allow Aragon a glimpse of the glittering gem stones inside. "I saved these," he told the Centauri. "I have sold many stones, but enough remain to make you wealthy... if you agree to my offer."

Aragon sipped the drink, allowing the bitter liquid to swirl around in his mouth for several seconds before swallowing. He place one hand on the box. "All right, j'Nialth, you have a deal. I will work for you."

J'Nialth nodded, and left the box with Aragon. Switching his translator back to English and turning up the volume, he attracted the attention of the crowd. "Welcome all to j'Nialth's bar," he said in a booming voice. "It is way of my people to offer gifts to customers during the first day of operations, so for the next two hours all drinks are free!"

With the exception of one young female officer near the door, everyone in the crowded room quickly surged towards the bar. Aragon just smiled, nursing his drink as he carefully removed the wooden box from the bar and placed it on his lap. It looked like things were going to work out after all. 

Far from Babylon 5, a large vessel slowly picked its way through the hyperspace currents towards Vorlon space. For the moment, it was hidden deep in the chaotic mists of hyperspace, but soon it would emerge into the glare of the Vorlon system's sun. Deep inside the vessel, watching the endless mists of hyperspace swirl past, Jeanne knew that her journey was nearly at an end. Once she stood in the ancient halls on the Vorlon homeworld, their reign would finally be over. She had once worshiped them, then later followed them because their cause seemed just. Now, she would replace them.

Around her, she could sense a feeling of nervousness from her large companion. She understood the sentient vessel's trepidation. In a way Zater'Enin was the first of his kind. His race had served the Vorlons for so long that they had lost their identity. They had become little more than servants, still sentient, but tied to the whims of their Vorlon masters. Now, finally, they would again be free. Free to hunt, to play, and to roam the stars, much as their ancestors had once roamed the oceans on Vorlon, mighty predators who were unchallenged in their mastery of the seas.

Now they were tamed, domesticated. Their instinct still remained that of a predator, but the fire that had driven them had been quenched by Vorlon logic. Their forms, once smooth and streamlined, and been twisted by centuries of genetic manipulation to suit their master's desires. Their skins had been hardened and their stingers altered into weapons of mass destruction. But, Jeanne could sense that there was still a part of Zater'Enin that retained the wild, untamed legacy of his ancestors. The way that the fighters had scattered before his approached reminded her of a school of minnows scattering as a larger predatory fish approached. She smiled as she recalled that moment, as it was then that she had finally realised that the warship was ready.

She had been doubtful, worried that the Vorlons had altered his race too far, leaving nothing behind of what had once existed. But it was still there, buried deep, but still present. Once she released the remainder of his people from their servitude, they would be free to spread out across the galaxy. And they would only be the first. Jeanne had been close to the Vorlons, she knew many of their secrets. There were other races they had altered to serve them, races so close to the Vorlons that they now faltered with their departure. She would rescue them, make them strong and send them out, wondrous additions to the galactic community.

Then, beyond the Vorlon Empire, in systems uncharted by any of the so-called major races, lived other species, young races with no-one to protect them from the older races. She needed to be there, to save them from exploitation, protect and nurture them as they grew. Then, when they were ready, they too would journey to the stars. The Vorlons had erred when they sought to control the younger race. She would not control, but rather guide and advise, giving every race a chance of life, a chance to make its own mistakes. This would be her legacy, her order, and over the years to come she hoped the humans of Babylon 5 would come to forgive her temporary intrusion into their lives.

Zack yawned sleepily as he left the Captain's office. It had been a long day, in more ways that one, and he was looking forward to a good night's sleep, if there was such a thing on Babylon 5. Almost on cue, his link beeped. For a moment, he considered not answering it, but eventually he tapped the receive button.

"Chief?" a familiar voice queried when he didn't answer verbally. "Are you there?"

"What is it, Aldred?" he asked, recognising the young officer and at the same time recalling that the last time he had seen her had been several hours ago. He struggled to remember what task he had given her, but then she answered for him.

"I finally found that Centauri you were looking for," she replied, a note of pride creeping into her voice. "He is currently sitting in Alfredo's Pool Hall, talking..."

"Thanks, Aldred," Zack cut in. "I'll speak to him later. There is no urgency any more."

"Oh," she replied, sounding disappointed. "I just thought, given the circumstances, you might want to check up on him now."

"It's too late now," he explained, before her words finally sunk in. "What circumstances?" he demanded.

"Well, the Thrakallan merchant, j'Nialth, is here as well," she replied. "I haven't seen Alfredo anywhere, so I think j'Nialth may have bought the bar. Then there are those aliens... Bilubi you called them. There are three of them are here as well, serving as waiters of all things. Um... and they're giving away free drinks."

Zack groaned, looking in askance towards the heavens as if to ask 'Why me?' Just when he had thought things might have been calming down a little, and he could sneak away to his quarters to snatch a few hours sleep before morning, this happened. The idea of two major criminal figures joining forces and buying the closest bar to Security Central and therefore the most popular bar with off duty security personal was just about enough to make him cry. "I'll be there as soon as I can," he told her. "Wait there until I arrive, and whatever you do, don't let them leave."

Closing down the connection, he hurried down the central corridor towards the Zocalo. Although it was now well into the night, the Zocalo was still crowded, especially the bars and restaurants. Manoeuvring his through the crowd, Zack had almost made it past the crowds when a cheerful, not to mention slightly inebriated voice called out to him. Zack looked around and spied Ambassador Vir Cotto sitting at a bar, waving furiously for him to approach. "Let me get you a drink, Mr. Allan," Vir smiled, gesturing to the bartender to bring over another glass. "You look like you've had nearly as hard a day as me." 

"I'm a little busy, Ambassador," Zack said, as he approached.

Waving away Zack's protests, Vir indicated the empty stool next to him. "Sit, Mr. Allan." As the security chief did so, the bartender approached with a glass of wine and placed it in front of him. Vir waited until the man had left and then leaned in close. "I was wondering if you could tell me anything about that ship I saw earlier?" he asked, in a voice was little more than a whisper. "I know that I can't ask officially because of the... problem between the Republic and the Alliance, but if the Vorlons are back, my people need to know."

Zack politely sipped the drink, noting that it was an exceptionally fine red wine from Earth. "I'm afraid we don't know that much," he told Vir. "But it wasn't a Vorlon vessel, at least not anymore. It was just a left over piece of technology from their Empire. The Alliance is looking into why it turned up here and there is nothing for your people to worry about."

"But..."

"I'll see if I can send you a copy of what we know," Zack promised, making a mental note to clear that with the captain first. He liked Vir, but he didn't want to put his career in jeopardy because of that friendship "Just don't tell anyone you got it from me," he added with a smile as he stood and was prepared to make his apologies. Then a sudden spark of inspiration struck him. He turned back to Vir. "Ambassador, you wouldn't know a Centauri by the name of Aragon Pernimi would you?"

"Aragon Pernimi," Vir spluttered, spilling what was left of his drink. "The Aragon Pernimi?"

"I take it that's a yes? I thought he might be a member of the thieves guild."

Vir wiped several drops of spilled liquid off his vest. "He's not a member of the thieves guild," he said, shaking his head. "He's the leader of the Immolan branch of the Centauri Guild of Telepaths. They have nearly as much power and influence as some of the older nobles houses and Lord Pernimi is said to be one of their leading lights, a master of considerable power. His fees are said to be among the highest of all Centauri telepaths and he ranks second only to the Grand Master on Centauri Prime. Of course, since last year, no-one has really..."

The ambassador paused, suddenly becoming aware that he appeared to be talking to himself. He looked over where Zack had been sitting, but all that remained was an overturned stool and a untouched glass of wine. The Centauri ambassador looked carefully around the nearby area, and when he spotted the security chief running full pelt down the corridor leading towards Blue Sector, he shrugged to himself. Picking up Zack's glass, he cautiously examined the dark red liquid inside. "I didn't think it was that bad," he murmured to himself, pouring the remaining wine into his own glass.

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