Despite the urgency, and why she was there, Kim paused on the deck of the docking pad and looked around her. “Incredible.”
From space, the Dyson segment had resembled a ribbon of steel with a bluish-green coating when their shuttle approached it. During their descent, the technology disappeared beneath immaculate cloud cover and lush green terrain. Distant city spires, possibly flight control towers, stood in the verdant distance. The sky overhead was aquamarine, blue, and white. Stars and darkness lay on the other side, blocked out by atmosphere and sunlight. The air had a subtle unfamiliar taste, but it was clean. It was the same first impression people get when they walk onto a planet for the first time. And for all intents and purposes, that was exactly what they were doing.
Kim led Yoshino down the boarding ramp and onto the ground. Solid, tightly packed earth. “I wouldn’t expect to see something like this outside of a computer model.”
“It is amazing,” Yoshino agreed. “How they could have accomplished this, from nearly nothing ….”
Buel, the Uzael who had greeted the humans before, was waiting a short distance from the landing platform. Another Uzael was with him, looking almost as different as one of the same species could. His black bead eyes seemed half clouded over. They darted and watched every movement and shadow. His head moved in the same constant, frantic manner. He was apparently speaking, a low persistent drone that meant nothing to the Rangers’ translation software.
Kim’s attention wasn’t drawn by Buel so much as the presence beside him. The telepathic impression was like a wellspring of sorrow. The second Uzael wore the feeling like shackles, like weight impairing every thought, every movement, lacking even the excitement of first contact with a crushing desire to collapse and despair.
Kim’s fascination with the place died. She kept her face schooled as best she could.
Buel took a few steps closer, almost dragging his companion with him. “We greet you, humans,” he said. “I am called Buel, and this one is called Malou. He is a telepath of our people.”
Kim hardly needed the clarification, but she remained polite. “My name is Kim. My companion, Yoshino.”
Malou’s roving eyes suddenly settled on Kim. Then he started shrieking. From his manic and rapid-fire chirping, the translator picked out a few words. “Don’t …. Tell them — stay away!”
On the secondary bridge of the Phoenix, Morgan and Darquin were taking their places at the central command console. Darquin put scanner readouts on the central console’s holo-projector. Morgan leaned forward, peering at the display as Darquin spoke.
“We’ve already got some good leads where to find the Vorlon hardware. So far we’re picking up five possibles, just inside the system, all ringed around.” Darquin shook his head. “No jamming, no signs of power at all.”
“Hm. Perhaps good.” She changed view to look at the closest.
Darquin pointed. “That’s our first target. It didn’t look like anything until we started an active scan.”
“Then what did it do?”
“It sent out a general signal. Short range, low power. Almost like a sub-channel. Or a transponder.”
That didn’t sound good. “Did you catch it?”
“Easy, like a softball pitch,” Darquin said, almost embarrassed. “It’s like our systems were on automatic. Engineering is checking for outside sources, in case it’s another grand entrance from our old friend.”
“Diolch.” Morgan looked at it, considering.
“We’re still not sure if there was any more data on that sub-channel,” Darquin said. “It was pretty weak. We could try a slow approach and see what we get.”
“Ie, go ahead.”
Darquin nodded and set a course into the navigation panel. “Course plotted, ahead slow.” Despite themselves, the bridge crew glanced at the holo-image floating above the center console, watching the ship edge closer. Darquin raised a hand to his earpiece, nodding to the comm officer. “Faint signal. We might have something.”
“Let us hear it.”
The bridge speakers crackled until, under scrambles of static, came an eerie, familiar muddle of whispers and alien groans.
Buel patted and stroked the other Uzael’s furred shoulder. “Apology. They have all started doing this. The telepaths.”
Kim stepped closer. “Do they always say this?” she asked Buel.
“No,” Buel answered. “Often they speak nonsense. Or nothing. This is coherent.”
Behind Kim, Yoshino stood watch, mouthing a chant. Yoshino had been keeping the words, repeating them, maintaining the rhythm, to focus her mind and avoid distracting Kim. Now she needed it to pacify her own uneasiness.
With nowhere to sit, Kim knelt, better than trusting her balance. She removed her gloves. “Tell them to stay away from where?” she asked Malou.
Buel watched his companion, then spoke when there was no answer. “We are not certain, but this began when your people agreed to … our request.”
The Uzael telepath glared up at Buel, then locked its gazes on Kim. “Vorlon killers! Yes! Kill you too!”
“Malou.” Kim held out a hand. “I need more than a warning. I need to understand.”
Malou trembled all over, his fur rippling. “Terror. Minds blasted apart. The fury in the blood. The scalding of generations.”
He struggled to sit up on his haunches. But he slowly stretched out a small, delicate hand toward Kim.
She touched, flinched at first, expecting something terrible even before she lowered her mental shields. Letting them come down was like loosening a fear-locked limb. The mind was alien, of course, but its turbulent chaos was not so different from that of the disordered human mind which she had been compelled to enter the year before. But Malou’s fear was giving him a focus, solid and clear.
Squinting, though her sight was well beyond the confines of her eyes, Kim reached past the chaos to grasp that one thing so important to Malou. She could see the Vorlon devices, dark and hellish even against the blackness of space. They stood tall and obscene, cragged and grooved, obelisks unyielding, in the service of merciless order. Their receptors crackled white and sparked crimson, eager for purpose, aching. They would destroy anything that encrouched upon their domain. Watching. Guarding. Listening. Waiting for the words to shut down.
Kim shuddered. “Malou … what are the words?” she whispered.
Darquin shifted in his seat, glancing up at the speakers emitting the sound. “It…sounds like a Vorlon.” He turned to the communications panel near the door. “See if we can get any text or visuals from that.”
Ancient symbols splashed onto the holo-image. Darquin looked to the comm officer, then to Morgan. “We’re not doing that.”
The image rippled, shifting into different scripts and symbols, serene but persistent, scrolling through language after language.
Malou struggled, his fur bristling, his entire body taut. Kim would have gladly let go a moment before. But now her grip tightened, willing focus, and strength. Together they were fighting to uncover a secret buried under a thousand millennia of terror and madness.
Finally, Kim could feel the words and codes forming in her own mind. The message was finished, set solidly in her mind’s eye.
There. Do what we were not permitted. Save your people.
Thank you. Kim let go and the transition jarred. She slapped her palm into the ground as she twisted toward Yoshino. “Phoenix, stand down. Retreat to safe distance!”
Wide-eyed, Yoshino slapped her link and relayed the message, repeating it twice before pausing to find out if it was heard.
“Phoenix, stand down. Retreat to safe distance!”
The emergency signal cut in and came through the speakers on the Phoenix’s secondary bridge. It was Yoshino’s voice. “Phoenix, stand down. Retreat to safe distance!”
Morgan stood up out of the captain’s chair. “Helm, back off! Quickly!”
Darquin swept his hands over the helm controls, turning the ship’s nose away from their target. The entire ship lurched to one side before inertial dampeners absorbed the kinetic force. The bridge crew held onto control panels and railings until the ship was again level.
“Somebody tell us something…,” Darquin muttered at the helm.
Yoshino hurried over to Kim, putting out a hand to help her up. Kim slammed her shields back in place and breathed slowly until she knew they would hold. Only then did she take Yoshino’s hand. The familiar contact of human hands and thoughts brought back some much needed focus.
Kim got to her feet with Yoshino’s help and activated her own comm. “Phoenix, a verbal key is required to deactivate the tech’s defenses. I have it.”
Darquin’s voice came through her hand link. “We’re recording in case we get cut off.”
“Go ahead,” Morgan said.
Kim sighed, shaking her head. “I’d like to, Phoenix. But my vocal cords don’t work that way. It’s in Vorlon.”
“Great,” Darquin mumbled, “we have to talk really cryptic?”
“I’m a scientist – that I could do easily. But this… I believe I would need to communicate it telepathically.”
“Oh.” Kim recognized the tone in Morgan’s voice. Her old friend was staving off laughter. “Then we will swing back and rendezvous with your shuttle.”
“Understood. We’ll be up shortly.”
Kim closed the channel and turned to the aliens, composed again. “It will be done.”
Her glance fell on Malou. The telepath had fallen back to all fours and had resumed his low muttering. “Thank you for your assistance,” she said, even though the telepath might be too lost to hear it. But when Kim spoke, his eyes, perhaps a miniscule bit more clear than before, met hers for a moment before looking away again.
Buel set himself on all fours as well, gently resting his head onto Malou’s own, apparently to comfort him. “We wish you good fortune.”
Kim inclined her head and turned with Yoshino to the shuttle.
Copyright (c) 2006 Jamie Lawson, Joe Medina, Leslie McBride and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.