The Gates of Delirium, Part 10
A scant few minutes after their shuttle docked, Kim and Yoshino reached the Phoenix’s secondary bridge. Morgan and Darquin were already drawing up tactical maps on the holo-viewers when Kim and Yoshino walked in.
“Smaller than I remember,” Kim murmured. Her glance went quickly to the holo-viewers.
“Yeah, close to the old shu’nali design,” Darquin said. “Good to see you guys.” With an anxious glance, he added, “And thanks.”
Morgan looked up from the charts. “Ie. Thank you.”
Yoshino’s gaze had gone to the holo-viewer too, after a lingering look to Darquin. “More than enough to drive one mad,” she murmured, almost too low to hear.
Kim nodded. “How close did you get to the Vorlon tech before we called you back?”
“About 60 thousand klicks,” Darquin said. “That’s when we started getting the directed signal.”
“Yeah, we picked up a sub-channel the minute we started scanning for the Vorlon tech. And when we approached the first target, it sent a signal right at us.”
“Anything unusual about the signal itself?”
“The first thing it sent…sounded like a Vorlon,” Darquin said.
Kim tucked herself into a free chair. “Considering the company, I’m guessing I can safely ask for a playback on that.”
“Whether you asked for it or not,” Morgan answered drily.
Grinning, Darquin loaded the playback from the comm archive. The faint mix of strange murmurs and groans came through the speakers. Kim’s eyes lost their focus for a few moments while she summoned what was in her mind during her contact with the Uzael telepath, and compared it against what her ears were hearing from the bridge comm system. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to vocalize to match that.”
Darquin sighed. “She’s right, guys. It’d take hours for us to figure out the right verbal response, even with what we know about Vorlon speech. So that idea’s a dud.” With a weary smirk, he added, “Funny, the ship seemed to know what to do before we did.”
“I wonder….” Kim studied the tactical holo-maps, where the Vorlon defense towers followed their ancient orbits around the Dyson swarm like glaciers in the void.
“The Vorlons … always wanted control,” Yoshino said slowly, ruminating. “Even in their punishments, wouldn’t you say?”
Darquin shrugged. “Good point. In the tac reports, Sheridan used to call ‘em ‘Lords of Order.'”
“They punished the Uzael by ruining their planet … and their telepaths,” Yoshino continued. “Yet at the same time, they provided the means to stop it. The Uzael telepaths had the knowledge, but they couldn’t use it. A very controlling thing to do.”
“Which is why they told us,” Morgan added.
“A subliminal thing?” Darquin asked. “Emergency programming from the Vorlons?”
“It’s hideous, what they did to the Uzael telepaths.” Kim shook her head. “If you could see the inside of their minds….”
Morgan leaned onto the console, arms folded. “We cannot approach the Vorlon defenses. If we open a channel to one, it’ll bwchio us. There must be something else.”
“What if….” Kim sat with them at the console, thinking. “What if, using the subspace channels, all this machinery is as a speaker would use a microphone?” Now it was her turn to lean on the console and sigh along with the others. “Anyway, I thought perhaps I could try the equivalent of screaming at the top of my lungs. Mentally.”
Yoshino was already studying the comm console. “Maybe that’s how these things were designed to receive commands. Telepathically.”
“It would certainly make it more secure,” Kim said. “You couldn’t just throw out a stolen recording that way.”
“It’s definitely keeping us honest,” Darquin muttered. He turned back to his console panel. “I’m running a search of the tac archives for anything on Vorlons, telepaths, and ships.”
“I’m starting to wish I had a little formal training at this,” Kim said.
“Nothing personal, but ie,” Morgan said. “If you can find any, after this…”
Yoshino exhaled sharply, following it with a grumble of frustration. “There must be some way of amplifying your telepathic ‘voice,’ Kim. With all this Vorlon technology at our disposal, there must be a way.”
“Remember what Sheridan said about the Vorlons. Everything about them was about order. Their idea of order. And their organic tech is about as reasonable. Chief Engineer Toussaint and his people say as much every day.”
Drumming her fingers on the console, Yoshino nodded in agreement. Their options were indeed few, aggravatingly so.
“Search results,” Darquin called out. “It’s intelligence from the Shadow War…and the Psi-Corps.”
“That’s not a good way to preface it,” Kim asked.
Darquin nodded, his enthusiasm waning. “Okay…it says that hyperspace can amplify a telepath’s ability.”
Kim frowned. “I’ve never noticed anything different when in hyperspace.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t make sense…unless they mean someone actually being out there. In a fighter or in a suit.”
“I should certainly hope inside something,” Kim joked, masking her discomfort.
“Well, if the Phoenix opens a jump point, a fighter could slip through and approach the nearest Vorlon tower while in hyperspace. And the Phoenix would be out of close range.”
“Not too far away,” Morgan added.
“Not to sound like a fatalist, but if I screw up, I don’t think the Phoenix can do much running to the rescue,” Kim said.
“I’d suggest one of the Thunderbolts,” Yoshino said. “It carries two, so you don’t have to worry about the piloting.”
“Right, you’d be in the RIO position, in the backseat,” Darquin said.
Kim nodded after a moment’s consideration. “It’s got to be someone who can be quiet, inside and out. Otherwise I’d rather take my chances on auto-pilot.”
“I’m out,” Darquin said with a smirk.
Kim sniffed. “The Vorlon language does sound enough like music as it is.”
“I … am now qualified on the Thunderbolts,” Yoshino said.
“It’s either Yoshino or yourself, boss,” Darquin said to Morgan.
“I do not think I would be quiet enough,” Morgan said quickly.
“I have to agree. Ah…you tend to leak,” Kim said to Morgan.
Morgan shrugged, not offended. “You are nominated, then,” she said to Yoshino.
“You leak too?” Darquin muttered, surprised.
“No shields.” Morgan shrugged. “At all.”
“Most of you leak, I’m afraid, one time or another,” Kim said.
Darquin blinked. “And I thought I was like a sieve….”
Kim pointed at him, smiling despite the circumstances. “You’re like trying to tune in a station that’s just off the band.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” he added with a grin. “I’ll tell the fighter bay you’re on the way.”
Kim nodded and then looked to Yoshino. “All right with this?”
“I…hope I will serve,” Yoshino said to Kim. “Kitsune once told me that I had spent so much time not thinking about pain, I was good at not thinking about anything.”
“Just remember to strap in,” Darquin added. “For all we know, you might have to open the canopy to get a signal through.”
“I should hate to come find you two in otherspace,” Morgan said. “Let’s get to work.”
While Morgan and Darquin coordinated with Chief Engineer Toussaint, Kim Matsumoto and Yoshino Marina traveled up to the main fighter bay on Deck 18. They suited up and stepped onto the hangar deck, helmets in hand, when they approached the Starfury Thunderbolt waiting for them. The anime girl art on its nose made it easy to recognize it as Storm Six, Darquin’s fighter.
Kim settled into the backseat, getting comfortable. “How are you doing, Yoshino?”
“Everything reads nominal,” Yoshino answered, flexing her hands on the Starfury’s twin control sticks. “Ready for departure.”
“Then let’s be on our way.” Kim opened the command channel. “Phoenix, how are we doing on the jumppoint?”
“Storm Six, Phoenix,” Darquin answered. “Jump engines are nominal and standing by. The nearest jumpgate is 20 light years away, so we’re gonna have to be it.”
“Acknowledged, Phoenix,” Yoshino said. “We will launch on your mark.”
“Good flying, Six. Mark.”
“Stay safe,” Morgan added.
Kim sat back and removed herself from any worries about logistics. Slowly she began to relax her barriers, preparing. The Thunderbolt glided out of the Phoenix’s fighter bay, into the dark. Yoshino focused on the piloting. Once their fighter was clear of the Phoenix, taking position under its own power, the task became a matter of physicality, a choreography of muscles, of finger movements and toe-tappings, closing her mind to any other thoughts. Kim had enough to deal with.
Sitting at the center console in the secondary bridge, Darquin adjusted his earpiece for the umpteenth time before glancing up at Morgan. “Engineering reports they’re go. Jump engines ready.”
She nodded. “Go ahead.”
Darquin tapped coordinates into his console panel. “Storm Six, Phoenix. Jumppoint opening in three, two, one….”
Kim drew her breath in sharply when she felt it happen a moment before her eyes could see it. The jumppoint blossomed blue in the void beside them. Yoshino pivoted the ship and held position. “Standing by,” she said to both Kim and the Phoenix.
The Phoenix began to pitch, angling its nose downward enough to leave a clear line-of-sight from the jumppoint to the Vorlon defense tower looming far ahead.
“Jumppoint integrity…nominal,” Darquin said. “Storm Six, we’re in position. You’re clear to move in.”
The Phoenix held position, keeping it open while the small winged fighter turned and sped into it.
“Attempting to initiate contact. Turning off my audio.” Kim touched her earpiece. She didn’t want any communications interrupting concentration.
Back on the Phoenix, Darquin exchanged another glance with Shok’nali Morgan. “I hope our power bill is paid up.” Even joking, he sounded grim. Morgan bared her teeth, agreeing.
Yoshino brought the fighter through the jump point, holding it just within hyperspace. She knew well how much power that holding open a jumppoint was costing the Phoenix, even in the best of repair.
Kim held the words she had gotten from the Uzael telepath’s wounded mind. Once she had the words, she pushed it outward and ahead of them, as far as her mind could reach. Layered whispers reached the edge of her senses and gave her an icy shiver. For Kim, it was like trying to pick a conversation out of a party in the next room — sounds blurring together, sometimes in harmony, other times — And then in a rush that left Kim feeling as if she’d just pushed through a wall, the voices became one.
Her voice came slowly. “Access received. Storm Six, green. Phoenix, green. No targets. Shutting down Tower One.”
The words didn’t make sense to Yoshino until she glanced at the readouts shimmering around her. It was Kim’s voice, but the words of the Vorlon defense tower identifying friend and foe, looking for targets … for new victims. Yoshino looked out in the hellfire panorama of hyperspace, eager for a distraction from the chill in her own bones.
A chirp drew Darquin’s eyes back to the tactical readouts at his station. “Morgan, we’re picking up an object coming our way.”
She frowned. “What is it?”
“An Uzael attack ship,” Darquin said, eyes wide. “Same configuration. And they’re using an approach vector.”
“Weapons hot? Or just… curious?”
“No power reading on weapons,” Darquin said. “But they might be able to block our scans, for all we know.”
Darquin watched the resulting scan of the alien ship’s hull. “Active. They’re curious, but they still don’t like us.”
Morgan sniffed, the moved up to look over his shoulder — An extra pair of eyes could not hurt. “They will just have to be patient.”
“Boss…that’s not in their flight plan. They’re on approach vector.”
“Tower Two, shutting down.” Kim closed her eyes, feeling the mixed emotions of a device that had more awareness than kindness. “Tower Three, shutting dow– ”
Kim suddenly stopped, a flood of new information crowding her head. One of the towers had picked up the approach of another ship.
Yoshino tensed, checking the sensor panel in front of her.
“Yoshino, there is another ship on approach. What’s going on?”
“It’s one of the Uzael ships, the belligerent ones,” Yoshino answered. “Not firing yet, but looking to intimidate, at the very least.”
“They’re coming too close. Stand down!” It was impossible to tell whether Kim was ordering the Uzael or the towers.
Kim gripped her hands into fists. She had expected the towers to fight her, but when she psi’ed the Vorlon command, their reaction was instant and passive. Now the alien towers were awakening, filling her mind with tactical solutions and powering up weapons. They were awake. Eager for purpose after a million centuries of emptiness. Anticipating the first kill. Communicating with them, guessing the right commands while maintaining the shimmering telepathic impression of Vorlon precepts — it was trying to sing an aria while in a panic.
“Tower Three…begin shutdown. Tower Four….”
Aboard the Phoenix, Darquin was monitoring the scanner blips on his readouts. “Uzael ship is changing course. Closing directly on us. They’re making a show of force.”
Morgan stabbed the comm controls. “Ranger Vessel Phoenix to Uzael craft on approach. Stand down! Repeat, stand down, and back off! Acknowledge!” She was close to cursing them as idiots.
“They’re receiving,” Darquin told Morgan. “We’re getting feedback on all freqs. They’re just not — Weapons hot! Weapons hot!”
She did curse then, fully aware the connection was still open. “Warning shot.”
“Defenses online,” Darquin called out. “Alpha-three fusion cannon, firing.”
From the tilted nose of the Phoenix came a rapid-fire burst across the alien ship’s path, glowing hot and green. Then the Uzael ship fired its wire-like cannons at the spine of the Phoenix, jabbing a red beam at its heart.
Kim gulped the next breath of air. “Tower Eight, shutting down. Tower Nine–”
A battle screen bloomed into her mind, targets marked by symbols she shouldn’t have been able to understand, but did. The remaining tower was pouring out targeting solutions.
Forcing herself to breathe, Yoshino mouthed an invocation. “Oh Enlightened One, grant your enlightenment to these lost souls before they kill us all and themselves as well …”
“I can’t get it to shut down like this. The best I can do is hold it at a stand down.”
“The Phoenix isn’t going to be able to hold this jump point open much longer,” Yoshino said. “Can you still communicate with the last tower in normal space?”
“Yes.” Kim bit her lip. “No.” She took a deep breath. “If it’s close enough.”
Overhead lights flickering, the entire bridge shaking, the bridge crew were holding onto their consoles when the Uzael attack abated. With a look, Morgan asked Darquin for an update.
“Shield down to 11 percent and recharging,” he said. “Jumppoint integrity stable. No damage. But getting real ticked off.”
“Target their engines. We cannot do both these things at once.”
Darquin nodded. A few quick sweeps over the board set off a sudden, violent multi-colored barrage on the alien ship. The blow sent electrical arcs crawling about the Uzael’s engine pods. A barely audible, rumbling shockwave rang out across space.
“They’re losing one engine,” Darquin said. “Picking up some wild discharges on their weapons. Looks like system failure.” He looked up. “They’re firing the rest of their engines.”
“One last time: Stand down!” Morgan ordered.
“Diverting power to shielding,” Darquin said. “They’re gonna ram us unless they break off now.” Darquin slapped a hand over his earpiece. “Picked up a signal, boss!”
“What is it?”
“The Vorlon defense tower on our two o’clock…it’s the same frequency they sent us. But it’s aimed at them.”
Morgan only hesitated a moment. “Try to make them understand that. Prepare to come about.”
Darquin worked furiously at his console, then froze. “I heard something for a second.”
“Are they answering?”
“No, this was in the background, not directly into their comm pick-up. I’m trying to isolate — ”
“Let me hear it.”
The bridge speakers released a dull hiss of background noise that faded, replaced by alien cries much like the screams of dying mice. The horrifying glances back and forth between the bridge crew, starting with Morgan and Darquin, made painfully clear what they were all thinking. Their first journey into Vorlon space began with a drifting White Star, full of comrades and kindred, all dead and frozen right up to the organic hull, eyes and mouths wide open in stark terror. Was that how the Uzael were now dying?
Kim bent forward in her seat, breathing raggedly. Her skull just didn’t have enough room for the argument she was having. “No. No.”
On the Uzael ship, the barbs of their weapons grid sparked bright and manic before exploding into a shower of light, vaporizing.
“Phoenix,” Yoshino called, “I don’t think Kim can hold that tower….”
Darquin reached up to his earpiece with desperate speed, then stopped himself when he heard Yoshino. “We can try jamming the signal.”
Morgan let out a breath, then nodded to Darquin. “Go. Helm, come about.”
Again, Darquin was working rapidly while the ship dipped a fraction and angled upward once more. He summoned a wave form on his screens and watched it shiver and twist. “We’re cutting in. Blocking a piece of it. But it’s getting through.”
“Taking offensive weapons offline,” Darquin added. “I’m gonna throw more power into it.”
“As much as you can.”
Darquin started shaking his head. “Storm Six, Phoenix. Get out of there. We could start losing power anytime now. Come back!”
“Acknowledged,” Yoshino said, moving to take the Starfury back into normal space.
The wave form graphic on his console was twitching, struggling. The two signals were fighting for dominance.
“A little from life support, if you need it,” Morgan suggested.
Color was draining out of Darquin’s face. “The Vorlon signal is getting stronger! It’ll flood the whole system in hours, at this rate!”
Kim made a garbled sound. “Targeting.”
Suddenly, the jump point started to collapse. Yoshino hauled on the controls, trying to drag the Starfury to safety, but it was too late. The backwash slapped at them, threatening to send them into a hopeless spin.
“Kuso!” Yoshino yelled, forgetting propriety completely as she fought down panic.
Kim cried out, her connection with the tower snapping.
“Jumppoint failing!” Darquin cried. “Man, Jordan’s gonna pull his hair out….”
“Dammit, no! The fighter–”
“Too much static,” Darquin answered. “Feedbacking off the jumppoint crash!”
Ahead of the Phoenix among the pinpoints of distant stars, behind the Starfury Thunderbolt deep in hyperspace, the jumppoint fluttered and collapsed, cutting both ships off from each other.
“Baka uchujin…” Muttering, Yoshino stabilized the Thunderbolt, yanking the control sticks as if they were the reins of a horse until the ship settled. She checked her readouts, refusing to look at the demonic swirling of endless hyperspace around them any longer.
Kim groaned and fought the urge to retch. A backlash headache swelled. Sweat was rolling down her face in streams. “Only thing I could do.”
“Are you all right? What did you do?”
“A targeting solution. It wouldn’t accept a shutdown. Suicide.” Kim moved to wipe her face with the cuff of her spacesuit, unaware her helmet was still on. Her hand slid off the faceplate. “It did accept this: Neutralize target.”
“I know we are supposed to embody compassion, but considering what they have done, I think that Uzael ship brought it on themselves,” Yoshino said, biting back several more choice insults.
Kim leaned slowly back into her seat. She repeated what Darquin had said a few minutes earlier. “Twenty lightyears to the nearest gate.”
“And I haven’t a lock on that beacon,” Yoshino said, her tone bleak. “I’m diverting all power but life support to the manuevering thrusters. We have to try and hold this position until the Phoenix can come for us.”
“All I needed was two more minutes.”
“Baka uchujin,” Yoshino repeated. “Will your order to protect the Phoenix hold, do you think?”
“So long as the Phoenix doesn’t attack. I think. But if any other ship comes within the area….”
“Boss, on viewer!” The holo-image rolled over the command console. To everyone’s horror, a telltale reddish-green shimmer erupted in the distance, from one of the Vorlon defense towers. Then, like the lance of a god, it released a crackling bolt of energy and struck the Uzael ship, which fell away into a lazy drift.
Darquin gasped, checking his readouts. “It’s moving. The defense tower, it’s closing on us.”
“Fall back! Are its weapons still hot?”
“Unknown,” Darquin said quickly. “Power readings are off the scale. Some of our scanner feeds are whiting out.”
The defense tower slid forward, looming, gliding past both capital ships like a burning hot, wandering glacier.
Morgan hesitated, not sure what to do, then: “All stop. Have to some time anyway.”
“Slowing…reading all stop.” Darquin glanced back to his console. “It’s just moving right past — Wait, it’s taking up our old position…where we opened the jumppoint.”
That wasn’t what she expected. She watched the screen, confused.
Darquin took his finger off the comm. “Mierda….”
The tower burned angry with crimson, rolling before a familiar orange glow simmered and grew behind them. The glow then snapped open. Wide. Tilting into a gentle spin. Exposing the hellfire chaos of hyperspace.
And a tiny speck soared out from it.
Kim stirred. “Something….”
“Kim … is right on top of it close enough?” Yoshino asked. “Because … here we are.”
Kim’s eyes widened as she saw what dominated the view. And then the connection slid back into place in her mind. “Tower Nine…standing by.”
Darquin spoke through a comm channel full of static. “Storm Six? Do you copy? This is Phoenix.”
Morgan’s eyes started to widen. It was all too easy to imagine the worst. “Kim…?”
Kim laughed faintly, a tired human sound. “It followed me home, mom. Can I keep it?”
“I’ll call that a five by five,” Darquin said, relieved.
“I’ll have it shut down in a couple minutes. Hold position.” Regret tinged her voice. Not for disabling a weapon, but the being that was the weapon.
“Acknowledged.” Morgan didn’t hardly bother to hid her grin.
Kim closed her eyes. She said nothing aloud. The jumppoint, wide enough to swallow every ship in sight, folded shut with ease. Then the weapons systems on the tower cooled and shut down. The signal was the last to die. Sighing, Kim began securing the shields around her mind once more. “Tower Nine is down. All clear for disposal.”
With a sigh to steady himself, Darquin gave Morgan another update. “The Uzael ship is down too. Minimal power readings, probably life support and that’s it. She’s drifting.”
“Thank you. Back to the barn.”
“All clear if you want to take us in, Yoshino,” Kim said.
“Acknowledged,” Yoshino said, flying the Thunderbolt in a wide arc around the now-quiet tower and back toward the Phoenix.
Morgan asked Darquin, “What about the Uzael? Can we take them in tow?”
“That’s affirm. Gravitic web projectors are nominal.”
“Then do it. As much as I would like… let their own people deal with them.”
“Yeah, I’ll second that.” Darquin started the process with his next keystrokes. “Standing by for fighter docking.”
Through the side port of the Thunderbolt canopy, Kim gazed out at the tower, quiet.
ISA Phoenix–“The Gates of Delirium” (Part 10)” © 2006 Alida Saxon, Leslie McBride, Jamie Lawson, Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2006 Warner Bros.