“She wants us to put this in a bag, right?”
The Narn nodding solemnly to his partner’s comment, pulling a large body bag from his ruck sack. “She” meant Captain Hale. “This”, for any not paying attention, was a lump of protoplasmic, to use a technical term, “gloop”.
“What a stench!”
Pulling her gloves on tighter, Helle grinned at her two slightly stunned and very reluctant looking helpers. “I hope you didn’t have a large breakfast,” she added, winking mischievously. That’s right. Keep laughing and perhaps they won’t even notice your breakfast is about to make a reappearance.
DeVries, for his part, was still squatting next to the thing. He massaged his temples. “So,” he started again, T’rar turned to face him with a look of infinite, paternal-like patience. “So, some Vorlon giant sneezes and we are suppose to keep it?”
T’rar rolled his eyes, a pained expression replacing the patient one. DeVries’ next comment was shut off as the rolled body bag connected with his head.
Helle collected the bag. Roland picked himself off the ground and brushed the dust off the seat of his pants. Before DeVries, the two-meter tall Narn towered, arms crossed. “What…,” DeVries said, “can’t take a joke?”
T’rar gestured with his hands, explaining to the human he could take a joke. He also added that he would be glad to “take a joke” if the human would be kind enough to “make” one.
“Ok, ok,” Roland moved to one side of the lump, “you want the head? Good, now, where is it?” T’rar rolled his eyes again. It WAS going to be one of those days, wasn’t it?
DeVries squatted again, helping Helle lay the bag out. “Ok, this … whatever… should just fit. How do we get it in?” The Narn gestured again, explaining how. Roland looked incredulous. “You mean…?”
The Narn nodded.
The Narn nodded again.
DeVries looked at the lump. “Any gloves?”
T’rar shook his head this time, to be echoed by Helle. The pair she had on was her last, and staying right where they were.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you,” Roland asked, looking at the mass.
The Narn nodded yet again, his smile beaming.
“You do know I’m gonna get you back, don’t you?”
For a moment, T’rar screwed his face up in thought. After a bit, he looked back at the human. This time, he shook his head, the smile staying the same.
“Why me, ” Roland muttered, fighting the sense of nausea as his hands touched the slimy surface. Next to him, T’rar signed again. Why Not.
DeVries and Helle each took a hold of the Jellyfish and began to lift but even such a slight movement stirred a noxious waft of gasses so foul that it sent all three reeling back in horror, the carcass dropping back to the floor with a sickly wet thwack.
Blinking in disbelief at each other all three beat a hasty retreat to the tunnel that led into the room where they stood gulping in lung fulls of relatively sweet and untainted air.
“Nothing,” DeVries said with a sound of awe in his voice, “Nothing has ever smelt that bad. Not even some of the things you eat,” he added looking at T’rar. “How are we supposed to go back in that room again, let alone get the thing bagged?”
Helle gingerly took her hand away from her mouth and swallowed before answering.
“OK. I say we take a really really deep breath, run in, throw the bag over it, kind of scoop it up, zip the bag and then get the heck out of there. Perhaps back here for some breathable air would be a good idea. Alright?”
It wasn’t quite that easy. It never was.
After a several minutes, Helle and DeVries were able to wrestle the mass into the bag. In fact, T’rar helped by hold the edges of the bag up, cupping the mass. As the zipper was closed, the bag settled. Looking at each other, the partners moved to opposite ends of the bag, each grabbing the handles there. Helle stood back to watch.
“Ok,” DeVries said, “on three. One, two… now.” Together, they lifted. The mass was actually heavier than it looked. Just as DeVries wondered if the bag was going to be strong enough, he’s ears picked up the faint ripping sound….
They all stared at other for a second. Then, the partners each leaned to his respective right, glancing underneath. Returning to their upright stances, neither made a comment for a moment. Helle looked at the ceiling. Then, deciding to break the silence, DeVries spoke up.
“So, you DID bring more than one bag, right,” he asked the Narn, one eyebrow rising.
T’rar rolled his eyes again. He had been right. It WAS one of those days.
Pain. Loss. Anger… The voices reached to the core of Kim’s mind, a discordant wail that demanded she follow it to its source. She passed another doorway, those she left behind forgotten in the call. There was something almost….
The familiar voice cut through the pull of the psychic undertow, and the miserable song was shattered. Kim blinked and looked back into the glare of light focused on her. They all watched her with looks of surprise and worry. She was a little shocked herself. She usually had more than enough sense to understand that wandering off alone in an armed stronghold, on an uncharted world, under the threat of alien attack was asking for a Darwinian end.
“Someone else in here, Kim?” Darquin asked, watching her response closely.
“Down below, there’s something dying… and alive,” she tried to explain. “I know it’s not making much sense.”
“This place? Vorlon technol –” Hale began, and was interrupted by Kim.
“No. Yes. Well… I could swear I’m sensing human.”
“Something dying… and a human? One of each?” Darquin asked.
“Yes.” Kim’s head turned back again, as if she could see down through the spiral caves with enough effort. “They are both getting weaker, though.”
“We’d better find ’em fast.”
Hale finally took out her own PPG out and checked it. “Agreed, but keep your PPG weapon’s handy. And as you all may have guessed now, our pikes may do little to stop these creatures we’re finding, and if there are any hiding down there…”
“I don’t think there are, but…” Kim shrugged, knowing her telepathic sense wasn’t to be relied on alone. “Well, it’s all down this way,” she said, pointing around the curve in the wall.
“And this place’s defenses?” Margaret asked, still nervous to be walking through the rooms like this.
She wasn’t the only one. Darquin watched warily for any traps. “Uh, Kim, any idea if they know we’re here?”
“I….” Kim frowned, exploring what she was picking up from the place. “Yes, but we can’t be stopped.” She shivered at the strong presence, like what she occasionally felt on the Phoenix, when she stopped and listened.
Thinking aloud, Darquin said, “Which implies that someone would be unable or unwilling to stop us.”
“There’s anger, but it is nothing compared to the pain… and loss.”
“Then we got something in common….”
Slowly, as they pressed on down through the rock rooms and corridors, a noticeable brightening grew from the walls, veins of crystalline substances shedding their own natural beauty into random patterns. The rest of the rock began to share a little of that glitter throughout it, and it threw back the beams of the flashlights in a defused glow.
And then they found the heart.
The room was large enough to drydock the Phoenix, and by the equipment there, could probably turn out a new fleet with the technology and knowledge contained. That is, if it hadn’t been gutted. The only thing that appeared to have been left untouched was a series of metallic pillars on the far end of the room. The very walls had been cut open, exposing sophisticated machinery they could only guess at the purpose, and other things that… couldn’t be defined. Even telepathically, Kim couldn’t make much sense of what she was seeing, and was beginning to feel like a medieval peasant trying to comprehend a open Jumpgate.
Guns raised, they moved into the space. Only their boots on the stone, creeping slowly across the floor, broke the silence.
“I wonder what this is all for,” Darquin said, finding it hard not to whisper.
“Not much of anything now,” Margaret said, and pointed to one particular area where it appeared a whole section of the hidden machinery had been extracted. She didn’t need telepathy to sense that it was key to the hunt and all the dying.
“So whatever they came for, it was here,” Darquin said, giving voice to all their thoughts. Slowly he waved his flashlight over the rest of the chamber, brightening the dim corners. With all their reflected light, the place was growing almost as bright as day, as if feeding on their flashlights.
Kim pointed at the ruined wall they’d been studying. “That’s what I sensed first. It’s dying — as if the brain or heart of this place was cut out. But there’s something else, if I could just find it.”
“There’s a few metal pillars over there,” Darquin said, pointing to them. “Or maybe not pillars. Otherwise they’d be all over the place.”
“Yes,” Kim said vaguely, and then repeated it with greater certainty, heading toward it. “That’s where. I don’t understand why, but the closer I get, the more I sense something familiar. Like us.”
“Us? Humans?” Morgan prompted, though it was disturbing to consider. What would any of their kind be doing here?
Without touching, they examined the tubes. There was a seam about three meters up around the circumference, but nothing more.
“You think maybe these are cryo tubes?” Darquin guessed.
“Maybe. Though what the Vorlons would want with us, I’m not sure I’d want to know,” Hale said.
“It’s as if he’s asleep,” Kim said under her breath. “Maybe. But how do we get in?”
“He?” Darquin asked, pouncing on the change. There was little use pursuing it when she looked just as perplexed. He shrugged. “Outta my depth on this. Either we break in or get some medtechs in here.”
Hale dared to touch one of the smooth metal tubes, and suddenly pulled back her hand as if burned. The sheath of metal began to slide up. “I think… that’s how you do it.”
Darquin stood beside her, stunned. “I’ll remember that!”
There was another tube beneath, some clear substance, but fogged with moisture. If it was cryogenics, then something was going very wrong. Darquin leaned closer, trying to peer inside. And nearly jumped back, crossing himself as he saw the slumped body inside, quite plainly dead. And it was human all right.
“Damn… the tubes have failed with the place!” Hale swore angrily. She wasn’t sure who she was more furious with; the beings that destroyed the place, or the Vorlons leaving these people like discarded toys.
“How many people did they kill off doing this…,” Darquin whispered.
“Eight. If there’s not more somewhere else,” Margaret said in equally hushed tones.
Darquin scowled as the shock wore off. “Feels like we’re on the right track after all.”
“No… there’s one still alive, I know it!” Kim protested, but she couldn’t quite convince herself to certainty.
Quickly she moved alone the row, touching each column to bring the sheathes up. The metal hissed up, revealing more dead, and a further shock… they weren’t all human, and some of species weren’t even recognizable.
“At least one,” Kim begged under her breath, and then gasped on seeing the last. “Quick, this one. He’s still breathing!”
Hale came around to look with the rest. It was a human — or at least on the exterior. No telling from where or when though. He was wrapped in some kind of protective fabric that made Hale think morbidly of butcher’s paper. “Must be because he’s at the head of the line or something,” she muttered with thought, “But he doesn’t look too good as it is.”
Darquin tried touching the plastic the way Hale touched the metal. It didn’t budge. “C’mon c’mon….”
“Morgan… I think we better get Dr. Brannon here right now,” Hale said.
“Ie,” Margaret agreed grimly, and after one last glance, was off at a run.
Darquin circled the whole tube for a lock to break. Kim searched frantically as well, and then by chance, glanced at Darquin’s hip.
“Darquin, the laser cutter!”
He pulled the tube off his belt, hitting the power switch as soon as he pointed the nozzle at the side of the canister. “Good thing someone’s smarter than me around here….”
“All right. Get ready to catch him if he falls out. On three. One, two….”
Darquin cut through the last section of tube at the bottom and stepped aside just as the section began to tip out. Chilly air escaped in a gust, and fortunately the straps holding the man upright held. With the sound of the section hitting the floor still ringing in the room, they didn’t hear the others run into the room, Helle at the head of the pack.
“Get him out and on the floor!” Helle gasped.
There were more than enough hands to help cut the man free and lay him out on the floor, Darquin draped his dark Ranger cloak across the body while Helle rummaged through her medkit.
Pulling out her scanner, Helle was startled to see its display totally dead. Trying the universal fix-it method she shook it violently and then threw it aside with an exasperated growl when it remained grey and unresponsive. Leaning over the body Helle listened for breathing, watching his chest for any movement.
Unconsciously holding her own breath, she released it in a rush as she felt and heard the merest whisper of breath pass from his lips, brushing her shoulder. She quickly rolled the man onto his left side into the recovery position, bending his right arm and leg forward to stop him from rolling over onto his stomach.
“Captain,” she called, tilting his chin forward to keep his airway clear, “I can’t do anything for this man without that damned scanner. He seems stable, but I say we need to get him to the Phoenix fast.”
Hale nodded slowly. “All right. Let’s get him moving.” Then she came to where Kim, Margaret and Darquin stood in a cluster out of the way. “Doctor Matsumoto, is there any others you can sense alive? Places we haven’t seen?”
Kim shook her head negatively. “Nowhere. Margaret already asked, but this is the only life I can sense. I’m sorry.”
“I’ll clear the way,” Darquin said, quickly moving to something to do.
Hale nodded grimly. “There’s nothing else we can do here. Let’s go.”
Copyright (c) 1998 Denise Cox, Leslie McBride, Joe R. Medina, Alida Saxon and Smith Self. All rights reserved.