Until the End of the World

Characters: Tomás Darquin, Tylo Narsh, Anakin Solo

Minbari Attack Shuttle Striker

Strapped into his acceleration chair, Darquin was mentally kicking himself. Back aboard the Phoenix’s Shuttle Bay, Captain Tylo Narsh–Anla’shok Som himself, survivor of the Battle of the Line–had marched past him and spoke on his way into their shuttle. And Darquin didn’t hear him. The off-handed glance from Tylo Narsh’s blood-like artificial eye, actually rattled him. It hadn’t even been the first time he saw it. All he could think of to say was, “Yes, sir.” Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Of course Tylo Narsh was too busy concentrating on the mission ahead to even notice. As the troops ran to their seats and strapped in, he took the co-pilot’s seat, saying only a few words to the pilot until the shuttle left the docking bay with a rumbling shiver that could be felt right through the acceleration chairs.

A few seconds after we cleared the Phoenix, as the dull roar of engines faded into silence, Narsh produced a data crystal. “All right, muchachos, here’s our mission profile. Watch your monitors.”

Darquin turned to the nearest computer screen just like everyone else. He did his best to gulp down the lump in his throat. The monitors pulled up schematics of the crystalline Main Temple of the Minbari Religious Caste. Throughout his training on Minbar, he’d been taught to revere the Great Temple as a source of peace and spiritual fulfillment. Now they had to take weapons into it. He looked at the Minbari troops, seeing their eyes waver to each other in disbelief or up ahead to Ranger Two’s seat.

Captain Narsh seemed unmoved, simply laying down the law. “Our latest reports have a new detachment from the warrior caste approaching the Temple from the northwest. We’ll land near the front, here in the clearing next to the main entrance, positioned to shield us from any attacks from that direction. That won’t stop the attacks from any warriors already in position, but it’ll give us some breathing room, gracias a Dios.

“The rest of you will be moving to and from the Temple in a three-tiered movement. Evacuees and their escort in the middle, and on each side, two defense lines to hold off the enemy. This will especially important once the warriors get close enough to engage us hand-to-hand. Any questions?” The pilot turned to him. “Si, amigo?

“I recommend that we keep our PPGs on the lower settings. It’ll keep the casualty rate down and we’ll get a few more shots out of ’em before we drain the caps.”

The Captain nodded. “No PPG settings above Level Five. That’s a standing order. Anything else? All right, everyone. Stand by to begin landing cycle. Anakin, at your discretion.”

Darquin’s ears perked up. Anakin Solo? He’d heard of him even when he was still in EarthForce. Flashy, but a good pilot. This’ll definitely be interesting, Darquin thought.

He focused on that thought, hoping to force the sense of foreboding from his flesh.

The landing was uneventful. Nothing happened on the way through Minbar’s atmosphere, and they landed with little more than the sound of a few tree branches scraping the Striker and a shudder as they reached the ground. The tension aboard could’ve dented the hull.

Everyone tore off the seat restraints and went for their weapons. PPGs whined painfully to life as Minbari fighting pikes snapped out from their hints and into position. The door slid open and chilled air flooded the compartment.

They charged into the forest without preamble, fanning out into the shadow of the Great Temple and the surrounding forest, icy grass crunching under their boots. Confident that the immediate area was quiet, they moved backward to the Temple’s crystal face. Running for the double doors, Ranger Two shouted in English to Anakin Solo and Darquin, ordering them to keep the defense lines firm. They nodded to each other as they ran to their places, Solo and Darquin heading for opposite defense lines as Ranger Two led his group into the Temple, weapons undrawn.

Darquin looked past the rounded fish-like thruster struts of the Striker, into the forest. Past the tree trunks, the grim faces of Minbari warriors lined the horizon, waiting. He took a moment to look up at the Temple looming over him, a huge multi-colored snowflake stuck in the ground, a snowflake that forgot to melt. It finally sank in: He was back on Minbar, in the capital city of Yedor. But a funeral air now permeated the place. The air was still but no longer fresh, carrying the heavy texture of battle ash and fear. The city around them thundered and squealed like a wounded beast, bleeding pillars of smoke into a once pure sky. Minbar was like home. Like Earth. It didn’t feel safe anymore.

It was like one of his aunt’s old songs. You were talking about the end of the world….

Inside the Temple, the gasps of priests and acolytes surrounded the throng of grey and brown robes. The Minbari robed in white froze in place as if trying to lose themselves in the pale facets of their crystal cave, leaving the huge statue of Valen at the far end of the Temple to face the invasion alone.

Tylo Narsh nodded to himself. They were too frightened to recognize them. “I realize we’ve been away for some time,” he called out to them, “but you must remember–“

An older Minbari came forward only to be stopped short at the sight of Tylo’s ruby-like eye, then smiled. “Anla’shok Som…you’ve come at last.”

And then the words rolled through the temple. Anla’shok. Anla’shok!

Tylo Narsh raised a hand to get their attention. “We have a shuttle to take you all to safety! But we must move quickly! I need you to form a few short lines–“

The priests directed their acolytes to quick compliance, then joined the lines. Quiet, efficient. Typical. Tylo couldn’t help but smile. Only for a moment.

His link beeped. “Narsh.”

“Solo here. We’re ready. And just time, too. Looks like a whole battalion is here for the party.”

“I’ll get the evacuees into the Striker. Stand by.” Tylo gave the link on his hand a hard slap, closing the channel. “Rangers, assemble! Go to the front and the end of each line. We will stand between them and violence. I repeat, assemble!”

He strode past the changing formations of his troops. Standing before them, facing the doors until the air was still and thick with the anticipation of battle and suffering, he shook open his fighting pike, holding it across him as it shot open.

“Move out.”

The double-door entrance of the Temple crashed open. Ranger Two led his troops in a fast break for the far end of the defense line. Minbari warriors in black, silver in their hands shining in the sunlight, burst out of the forest and ran straight for them.

Darquin was raising his PPG to the ready and pulling his wooden katana from its place under his belt when Captain Narsh ran into the gap between him and Anakin Solo.

He saw the smirks on a few warriors’ faces. Presenting weapons was a sign of respect for their social class. He’d probably trained beside them in the Ranger Compound only a year or two ago.

The song continued in his head, its gloom underscored by war drums somehow appropriate.

   Last time we met was a low lit room
   We were as close together as a bride and groom....

As the warriors came into the shadow of the Great Temple, he could see the silver in their hands was actually Minbari PPGs. “Son of a–“

Tylo Narsh didn’t give him a chance to finish the thought. “Fire at will!”

The chilled air hissed against the shimmering rain of plasma bolts. The first layer of the Rangers’ defense line shattered, charging the enemy, firing on them, or falling under the ice-blue hail of PPG fire. Military orderliness and discipline was gone.

Darquin could see the terror in the faces of the younger Minbari, even as they were firing. Dread was one thing, he thought, but it was too soon to give in to fear. “Entil’zha veni!”

“ENTIL’ZHA VENI!” The reply was instantaneous, loud, and uniform throughout the assembled Rangers. Excitement seemed to surge. It was like an old movie.

Tylo Narsh pointed Anakin Solo and his section into the wave of Minbari soldiers, then stepped into the gap with arms outstretched. “The rest of you, keep this area secure! Buy the evacuees some time!”

Darquin followed the sound of clashing metal and landing blows. “They’re getting through!”

Tylo waved Darquin and his people over to him, then turned and braced himself for the onslaught. “No one gets through!”

Darquin dodged to one side, jumping to another as plasma bolts flew past him. Tylo dropped and rolled, seemingly ignoring the weight of his fighting pike digging into him, before stopping to let off a few shots. Rangers and Minbari warriors clashed on the open ground beside the shuttle’s engines, knocking guns out of each others’ hands and exchanging blows. Heavy thuds punctuated the grunts and hissing crossfire. The rusty smell of blood mixed with the grit and ash on the wind.

Like the other Rangers, Tylo and Darquin took on a few opponents at once, alternately dodging and blocking until an opening presented itself. The Captain often delivered a quick blow with the end of his fighting pike right into someone’s brow while holding off a volley of attacks from enemy pikes. Darquin had to dodge a lot, swing his bokken into his opponent’s side in hopes of hitting his ribs, or threw himself down into a leg sweep to force an enemy off his feet before striking his hands with the bokken.

That worked only a few times before the next Minbari warrior leapt up and pulled his booted feet off the ground, leaving Darquin on the ground apparently at his mercy. He had to kick out instead of in, shoving his fighting pike out of his hands, giving himself enough time to get on his feet and punched in the jaw. The thump nearly deafened him. As the taste of blood trickled onto his tongue, so did his outrage. Like a mad puppet Darquin swung himself into a roundhouse kick and returned the favor. He looked down at his fallen opponent, their mouths now equally bloody, as the Minbari somehow managed a wide grin. The son of a bitch was actually impressed.

PPG blasts crackled behind him. Instinctively he turned to look. His EarthForce training sent him jumping against the nearest flat surface, in this case the ground.

Drawing his pistol, he fired three shots in the direction of the latest onslaught and looked around, gasping. Anakin Solo was busy tearing off the black tunic off the same Minbari soldier Darquin had just kicked into the ground. The poor guy must’ve gotten a chest full of friendly fire. Darquin ran to them, watching for new attacks.

“It’s not bad,” Solo said in Minbari. “Only a little material melted into you.”

The Minbari nodded, saying nothing.

From under his Ranger robes, Darquin tore a first-aid kit off his belt. “I got it. Sir, you’d better head for the shuttle.”

“You don’t have to call me ‘sir,’ kid.”

“Well, it was either that or Anla’shok Number so-and-so.”

Solo smirked, watching him squirt a packet’s contents onto the Minbari’s blackened burns.

“I’ll cover you.”

He rolled his eyes as he nodded. “If you’re not a couple seconds right behind me, I’m coming for you, get me?”

“Got it.”

As Solo ran for the shuttle, Darquin sat down beside the wounded Minbari, his bokken across his lap. His wounded charge enthusiastically shook his head. “What’s wrong? The pain?”

The Minbari swatted away the spray bottle in his hand, pointing with his other hand at his fighting pike a few meters away. Darquin gave the diminishing battlefield a quick look, quickly retrieving the weapon. But when he offered it to the Minbari, he waved it away and spoke through clenched, bloodstained teeth. “Take it.”

Darquin gasped. “What about–“

“I’ll get…another. Go…Anla’shok.”

He retracted the fighting pike with a flick of the wrist and put the remains of the first aid kit into the Minbari’s hands. Over his shoulder he could see a pair of Minbari acolytes trying to help Anakin Solo drag some injured Rangers toward the shuttle. Hesitating, he ran for them with the hilt of the fighting pike in his hand, leaving his wounded opponent on the burned and bloodied grass surrounded by Minbari and human bodies. The song in Darquin’s head reached the last verse.

   Waves of regret and waves of joy
   I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
   You...you said you'd wait 
   Till the end of the world

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