Yoshino was the first into the meeting room, and she settled into a chair, looking around as the others entered the room. Hale set some printouts and a data pad on the table before sitting. Darquin took his usual seat right away with a data pad of his own. Peter Carlacci arrived and put himself somewhere in the middle, stretching out his long legs and crossing them at the ankles. Lastly was Morgan, delayed in making sure the bridge was covered before she came in.
“This everyone?” Peter asked.
Captain Hale nodded. “We’ll send a briefing out to the rest of the staff afterward.” She called up their route on the holographic system set into the middle of the table. In the three-dimensional map of known space, a lopsided s-curve shot around the borders of Centauri space. Large dots of light marked their waypoints. “And this is where we’re going.”
“Looks like we’re taking the scenic route,” Darquin said with a grin.
“I was noticing that,” Carlacci said. “I’m going to have to study some of this.”
A smile pushed up the corner of Hale’s mouth. “The grand tour. From our orders it looks like there’s some hope we can deter further activity with a show of our resources.”
“That would be a good thing,” Yoshino said.
Darquin nodded. “So we’re drawing a line in the sand.”
“Nerve-wracking is what it is,” Morgan said under her breath.
“The Centauri aren’t the worst we’ve faced, but the alliance is so new. Having this happen with a founding race doesn’t look good, to say the least,” said Hale.
“The pro-Clark freeps are gonna love this, that’s for sure,” said Darquin.
“Oh, you can bet there’s talk already in the news.”
Carlacci was still looking at the holographic map. He pointed out the long spine of the s-curve. “This jump here …. there isn’t a regular beacon, is there?”
Hale stopped to look at the map and nodded. “That’s right. Do you feel it’s going to be a problem?”
“Shouldn’t be,” Carlacci said. “Just means I have to work for a living … at least a little.”
“Well, we’ll all do our best to keep things otherwise uneventful.” Hale glanced at Morgan. “Toussaint tells me he’s about got the tactical systems adjusted to your liking.”
“Yes, just about. It feels a little less like a… a hamster wheel now.”
Darquin raised his hand as if pledging a vow. “And I won’t crank the sound system from now on.”
Morgan just shot him a mock glare, not deigning to respond to that. Yoshino covered her mouth, trying to hide the grin.
Hale’s mouth wobbled in the effort not to laugh. “That’s good to know, on both counts.”
“Serious though,” Darquin said, “the system feels good so far, considering. It adapts very quickly to each user.”
“And the ship’s power systems seem to be handling it without any difficulty,” Yoshino said.
“As the upgrades seem to have gone off well, there’s one thing I wonder if you might do for us Yoshino, if your duties permit,” Hale said.
“Of course, Captain. What is it?”
“You’re good with computer systems. Do you think you can poke around the various networks as we travel, see if you can get any whiff of what the Centauri may be up to. There might be things to be found in their business transactions that will give us warning or direction as to what they’re doing in war.”
“Of course,” she said. “I’ve … been in the Centauri nets before, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Darquin gave Yoshino a clandestine grin.
“Good,” Hale said. “It bothers me that they’ve changed their tactics so much. They’re using warships almost exclusively now. I want to know why–it sooner than we can through channels back on Minbar.”
Morgan nodded, agreeing. “Something is afoot that gives me a bad feeling.”
“Even for war,” Darquin added softly.
“I’ll let you know anything I find,” Yoshino said. “It is true that as … strange … as all of this is, someone must be talking about it somewhere.”
“Exactly, but it’s so… quiet,” Hale said. “It reminds me too much of the early days of the Shadow war, which just might be what’s fueling my worry.”
“But they did leave….” Darquin sounded uncertain.
“Yes,” Hale agreed. “But perhaps their influence hasn’t… or their leftovers.”
“The Vorlons left, but they left a lot behind,” Yoshino said thoughtfully. “It would be foolish to think the Shadows did not do the same.”
“Like unexploded mines,” Morgan said to Darquin. “Only potentially much, much worse.”
“Could be some Centauri thinks he’s found the thing to make himself Emperor,” Hale said, “be it an ally or a found relic.”
Darquin tapped the table, thinking. “Or rogue agents.”
“Yoshino,” Carlacci said suddenly, “Go over the reports from our last mission on Abbai … the raid on that Centauri merchant’s. We turned up some really …. strange stuff there.”
“Were we able to confiscate any of it?” Hale asked.
“If there’s anything, it’d back in holding with the Abbai,” Carlacci said regretfully.
“I’ve been stepping up onboard security,” Darquin said, “at least until we know more … about a few things.”
“Our visiting technomage among those, I’m sure,” Hale said.
Several wrinkles appeared in Yoshino’s forehead as she thought. “Didn’t you meet the techno-mage on the same raid?” She turned to Darquin. “And an alien we’d never seen before. Or was it two?”
“I’ll say two,” Darquin answered. “They seemed alike, but…I’m still not sure what to make of it. I’ve been doing some research on a word one of them kinda muttered. Maybe ID the language.”
Morgan tapped her fingers on the table, thinking. “You don’t think they’re connected, do you? That doesn’t seem a techno-mage’s style, from the little I know…”
“Abbai had no defenses to speak of. Until we went in, it was easy money. The creatures at Cheys’ place could’ve been just another bunch of low-lifes from a place we never heard of.”
“Low-lifes that could hurt a techno-mage?” Morgan said, frowning.
Smirking, Darquin pointed at her. She’d hit the nail on the head.
“I’d like to see what you’ve found, if I may,” Yoshino said to Darquin. “Maybe it will help me in where to look. Or at the least, I won’t be going over the same ground twice.”
“Sure, it’s right here.” Darquin offered her his datapad. “I got just one hit on the search programs so far, in the Anla’shok records onboard. Right before civil war broke out on Minbar, Delenn took a few White Stars to check out reports of raiders near Minbari space. When they made contact, one called himself ‘Drakh.'”
“Was any of them detained?” Hale asked.
“Negative. It all ended in a nasty furball. Until we raided Cheys’ operation on Abbai, nobody ever heard of a Drakh.”
Hale sighed. “Well, the reports will have to do then. Yoshino might find similar sightings or dealings on record, and we can consider what to do about it if it arises.”
“If that techno-mage comes back, maybe we can try the ‘D’ word on her.” Darquin shrugged. “Not that I’m holding my breath.”
“Well, if she’s going to contact anyone, it will likely be someone she has already met. You. Or Morgan.” Hale said.
Morgan nodded. “I will be ready.”
“I did meet her too, our techno-mage – slash – guardian angel,” Carlacci said. “But didn’t have anywhere near as much contact as Tom did.”
Darquin shrugged, fidgeting with the edge of the table. “So she followed me around for a bit.”
“Did she seem surprised by this ‘Drakh’ too? Or was it a familiar species?” asked Hale.
“Unknown,” Darquin answered. “But they sure didn’t get along. It would’ve killed her along with us if we hadn’t gotten her out.”
“It must have been very strong,” Yoshino said, eyes wide, “if it could even hurt, let alone kill, a technomage.”
Hale drummed her fingers on the table. “I wish she were here to be questioned.”
“As long as she doesn’t try to break in,” Darquin muttered.
“Realistically, though, could we stop her?” Morgan pointed out.
“If we intend to have a peaceful relationship… I don’t think so,” Hale admitted.
“If it came to that,” Darquin said, frowning, “the Vorlon tech would definitely do its damnedest. We can run interference, weaken her defenses, but in the end, it’d be up to the Phoenixherself.”
“A crossing of powers I’d rather avoid.” Hale glanced around the table. “Well, we have enough to pursue for now, I think. Is there any more questions or comments?”
Darquin shook his head.
“None here, Captain,” Morgan said.
“I’ll let you know if I run into any navigation problems,” Carlacci said. “That’s it for me.”
“I will keep you informed on my research, Captain,” Yoshino said. “No questions.”
Hale looked to Morgan before then saying. “All right then, this meeting’s concluded. Morgan, would you see a briefing gets posted to the staff?”
“I will, soonest.”
Hale nodded, turned off the holographic map and rose from her seat. Darquin got up to leave, a half step behind her, eager to put all the unpleasant subjects behind. Yoshino followed, offering him a gentle pat on the shoulder.
Darquin aimed a quick smile at her. “A few more meetings for me. Then I’ll be back on the bridge.”
Following the pair, Carlacci exited, resuming his place at the helm. Only Morgan lingered, trying to think about the crew briefing, distracted by other thoughts.
Phoenix–“Sibling Rivalry” (c) 2002 Alida Saxon, Leslie McBride, Jamie Lawson, Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and (c) 2002 Warner Bros.