If You’re Alive At 33

Characters: Tomás Darquin

I.

 Dressing like your sister
 Living like a tart
 They don't know what you're doing
 Babe, it must be art....

An Abbai woman in a revealing iridescent purple gown braved the cold, the night, the palpable tension that rode the salty marshland breezes on a street corner in R’nasqa Village. Even though her legs and arm and the neckline of her gown betrayed much of her, she conceded only an occasional shiver to the darkness. She was accustomed to the cold.

A figure stepped through a splash of light from one of the village lanterns, approaching her. She contrived a smile and watched as she did for any prospective customer. “Cold night for a festival–”

“For Day of the Dead? Kinda appropriate. In a way.”

She stopped when she recognized the Anla’shok uniform and steeled herself.

The Ranger, a human, moved closer and assayed her carefully, sighing as he came to a conclusion. “Sorry…I thought you were somebody else.” He moved to leave.

She took a step forward, adding quickly, “Who would like me to be?”

That stopped him short. He turned his head quickly, looking with disbelief into her dark eyes.

This was the sort of reaction she’d been preparing herself for. There was no law against what she did, but the practice had disappeared from the face of the Abbai homeworld thousands of years ago. Until the Shadow War and the subsequent raider attacks, no Abbai had to face living in poverty or slavery. Since then, that changed. And some were desperate enough to return to old ways that had been forgotten. And because so many had suffered similar losses, in the same devastation, the thought that someone, let alone a female Abbai, could be lured into such an existence–living in the shadows of cities and villages, in effect the slaves of alien criminals–made many Abbai uncomfortable. Not only had prostitution returned to the Abbai homeworld, so had the stigma.

And so this Abbai woman was ready for another onslaught, verbal or physical. Offworlders were quick to resort to physical ones.

The look in the human Ranger’s eyes softened. “I’m not lookin’ to party. Sorry.” He turned away. “I never liked games like that anyway.” He examined the streets and the darkness that defined them before turning back to her. “What’s your name?”

“Delevai.” She felt more nervous now than when she thought she was in trouble. “Yours?”

“Darquin. So, uh, where are your…minders.” She pointed at a long cylindrical structure down the street, a two- or three-story. Darquin nodded and said only, “Stay warm,” before slipping out of sight.

She waited for a time, looking around in case someone else was around, then headed for the cylindrical longhouse. She wasn’t sure what to expect … which seemed to be this Ranger’s specialty.

II.

 You don't know how you took it
 You just know what you got
 Oh Lordy you've been stealing
 from the thieves and you got caught....

Darquin lived up to one of her expectations. He entered the building unnoticed, disturbing none of the floating threats and negotiations going on throughout the place. He rode support beams and crawled along the metallic meshes that defined the shape of the building. He blinded miniature cameras, evaded energy-beam trip-wires with pinches of dusts, and listened at doors.

The first and second silent doors offered nothing when he peered inside, but the third had a data terminal. With it, he tracked the building’s local network through the work logs of servers and workstations to find one terminal that fed the datastream the most.

If it wasn’t the person in charge, it’d be the number two guy, Darquin thought. Either way the chances of finding dirt were just as good.

Once he was able to figure out the terminal’s the location, he took to the hallways. A crag-faced Grome interrupted him, but Darquin quickly silenced him with a quick palm strike and dumped him into what was probably a broom closet. To his relief, his destination was empty of anything and anyone except his prize.

He had intended to transfer all the pimp’s funds to one of the local police databases and framing one of his henchmen in the process, effectively crippling the whole scam and creating enough chaos to distract any of them from noticing all the prostitutes who would choose to skip town. But when he looked further into the file system, reading private messages and phantom financial records, recognizing names and underworld organizations that shouldn’t have gone together, he was too engrossed in the computer’s treasure of incriminations to see the Drazi behind him.

The whine of a PPG powering up got his attention as he was reaching into his pocket for a data crystal. He turned around to look up into the snub-nosed barrel. He barely saw the Drazi’s finger tighten on the trigger when he dove into his legs. Ozone and burning plasma permeated his wake.

Even after the body check to the knees, the Drazi didn’t go down. Darquin cartwheeled past him and, taking handfuls of the back of the Drazi’s tunic, drove his head into the door frame before he could regain his footing.

The Ranger could no longer afford to waste time and he knew it. The whole building heard the PPG blast. He didn’t wait to see if the Drazi went down for good. He ran.

As he bolted down the corridor, some of the doors flew open to reveal more henchmen and their personal collections of bladed weapons and handguns. Darquin jumped to one side, palming his folded fighting pike, letting himself bounce off a wall. He felt a flash of heat in front of him when he hit the wall, felt something rip the fluttering edges of his duster as he was falling. Once he hit the floor, he sent himself rolling through them and opened his fighting pike. Even the two or three Drazi in the crowd cried out when they dropped.

Darquin engaged the next corner in a defensive crouch, pouring on all the speed he could.

III.

 You don't know how you got here
 You just know you want out
 Believing in yourself
 Almost as much as you doubt....

Delevai slipped into the ground floor of the longhouse, which had been converted into a packing and loading area, when a PPG blast announced a commotion from one of the upper floor. She hid inside an empty cargo skimmer, climbing through an open window, and squeezed herself into the space behind the driver seat.

She listened carefully, wondering what was happening, dreading the most likely explanation. Curiosity had forced her to come looking for the human Ranger or, at least, find out what he was up to. The cold provided an excuse to enter.

She nearly started when she heard another PPG go off. The clamor upstairs went on, quieting for a moment, then bursting into an increasingly louder clarity. It was like listening to a storm travel through the building, tracking its passage by the rumbles and lightning strikes.

She ducked at the distant sound of a comlink chirping and running feet just as the maelstrom was reaching the stairs that sat against the far wall. When she risked a peek, she could see a Pak’ma’ra and a Llort running to the foot of the stairs with guns drawn. Then the Ranger leapt, setting loose a relentless barrage from his own PPG pistol as he slid down the stair rail.

And she caught sight for an instant of fear wash across the Ranger’s face. To her he suddenly became mortal.

He pushed himself off the rail and landed on the ground floor, keeping the stairs and his groaning opponents between him. The Llort and the Pak’ma’ra were pulling themselves up, their chest smoldering only slightly. The Ranger must’ve opted for the lowest setting, trading firepower for a greater number of shots.

As he looked around and made eye contact with Delevai, more enemies came from the stairs and appearing from behind the mountain range of crates. He fired a few more shots at each wave, forcing them to back off, and tossed his spent PPG aside. Then he quickly assumed a battle stance, folding out his fighting pike.

Delevai scrambled into the driver’s seat and opened the door, waving at him to get in as she activated the skimmer. She wasn’t sure if he saw her until he nodded. His eyes remained on the fight in front of him as he stepped backward toward the skimmer, striking down in furious sweeps anyone who ran into range. He sent something sliding on the ground toward her with a tap of his heel, a box-shaped Narn pistol. Delevai took the hint and picked up the gun.

Darquin held his pike in front of him and shoved four of his attackers away, briefly blocking the gunmen behind them, the perfect opportunity to run full-tilt for the skimmer.

As he closed up his fighting pike and bolted, a Drazi charged him, punch dagger raised. Delevai was about to move deeper into the skimmer to let the Ranger inside when they crashed on top of each other, into the car. She could see Darquin’s face go blank as he sank to his knees like a broken toy. He shuddered as the Drazi shouted a battle cry and jammed his punch dagger into Darquin’s back again. And again.

Delevai raised the Narn pistol and burned the Drazi to the ground with three shots. She fired several more to keep the others at bay long enough to pull the Ranger into the skimmer. She didn’t bother with grace, dragged Darquin over herself, and sent the skimmer racing for the open garage door in which she had entered before. She assumed they were firing on them, but couldn’t hear for certain. The howling engine, the sight of the village streets flying around her, and the pain-distorted grumbles from the Ranger.

“Medlab..will nuh…beee…thrill…t’see me…damn….”

She realized something warm, his blood, was on her chin. She’d never felt human blood before. She’d never seen a Ranger dying before.

Delevai wrestled more speed out of the skimmer and shot deeper into the village.

IV.

The R’nasqa police station erupted with raised voices and autofire footfalls as the main doors crashed open. The watch matron bolted from her desk and plowed through the thickening crowd of constables.

She glared at the Abbai woman who had just barged into the station, carrying a large bundle over her shoulder. The intruder had lost everything when the Shadows attacked their world, and now resorted to selling herself to less than reputable offworlders.

“Delevai, how dare you–” The watch matron froze when she saw the bloodstained Anla’shok duster. “Medics! Medics now!”

She guided Delevai to a desk, demanding that everyone clear the way and get everything off that desk, and helped her extract the Ranger from Delevai’s awkward fireman’s carry. The Ranger groaned as they gently rolled him out over the desk. His face was beginning to look like dry wax.

Inspector Isseoja worked her way through the crowd to reach the desk, stopping short when she saw the bleeding Ranger on the table. “By Oulai….”

“I’ve called for medical aid, Inspector.”

“Any response from the Phoenix?”

“None yet,” the watch matron said. “I suspect they’re rather occupied, but they always answer. Delevai…brought him.”

Inspector Isseoja glanced up at the Abbai prostitute, surprised. “You brought him?”

“I did.”

“Did you see it happen?”

“Yes, he was fighting Dolak’s men. One of them struck him from behind with a Drazi punch dagger.”

“Could’ve been poisoned,” the Inspector thought aloud. “We know which poisons the Drazi use, so perhaps we can gain some time for him until–”

Abbai medics rushed into the lobby and stopped only when they reached their patient. The watch matron quickly explained the situation as they set up their stretcher and cracked open their medkits.

Darquin shifted, trying to focus his disobedient eyes. “Helle….”

“Hurry,” the Inspector told the medics, “he’s in a great deal of pain.”

“Kim?”

Inspector Isseoja started, then turned to the watch matron. “What does that mean?”

“He could be speaking in his own language,” she said. “Or he could be simply delirious–”

“Meer…Mira. Where…clochee.”

An Abbai constable approached the watch matron with a packet of skintabs. “Matron, here are the Drazi anti-toxins–”

“Tian…?”

The watch matron sighed as she accepted the skintabs. “Thank you, constable.”

Darquin looked up when he felt someone hold his hand. “Sing …. Yosh …. Mersay–” He lowered his head back to the table underneath him, a pilot trying to straighten out and land in one piece.

Delevai tightened her grip of his hand, holding it to her cheek, as the medics went to work. She knew what he was saying, what he wanted. She could be those things for him. She could be Oulai or Kolai or whatever goddess he worshipped, for a short time. After all it was her job.

They want you to be Jesus 
They'll go down on one knee 
But they'll want their money back 
If you're alive at thirty-three 
And you're turning tricks 
With your crucifix....
     – U2, all lyrics by Bono
     "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"

Phoenix–“If You’re Alive at 33” Copyright © 2000 Joe R. Medina.

Babylon 5 TM and © 1998 Warner Bros.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” Copyright © 1995 Atlantic Records