Then the Light
Characters: Psi-Corps NPCs
Casandra Ellery was completing the pre-flight checks, eager to get the trip over with. Stars and hard vacuum weren’t as disturbing as hyperspace.
She psi’ed an announcement to the crew. Strap in, everybody. We’re close to our departure point.
The other MetaPol officers complied, getting into their seats and restraints, when the message came over the flight control channel. “Shuttle Omega-839, we are entering your window. Stand by for departure.”
“Confirmed, Flight.” She fired the shuttle’s manuevering thrusters, guiding it toward the opening hatchway. “Approaching threshold now. Thanks for the ride.”
“You’re welcome as always. Good hunting.”
The helm answered her and sent the shuttle gliding out into the fiery maelstrom, away from the dark spherical mothership beyond.
Casandra felt Jeanne Ingram, two seats behind her, touch her mind. From the prickly residue of tension left behind, she could picture Ingram flexing her gloved fingers. How long until we reach the jumpgate?
In response, she watched the nav-com readout, letting Ingram see through her eyes. They were one standard hour away. The nav-com had a good fix on the gate’s signal, so the ETA was a reliable one.
Ingram turned her raspy voice on her fellow passengers. Casandra wished the woman had simply psi’ed everyone and spared them all, and promptly walled up the thought to make doubly sure it didn’t leak out. “So has anyone here ever been on Rolui before? I never even heard of it before yesterday.”
“I have.” Hugh Conners, the senior officer of the Bloodhound units, was chiming in. “I didn’t like it much. Dark and cloudy all the time. But the natives were easy to work with. They have their own telepaths. A whole clan of them, the Speakers. Much like the royal telepaths on Centauri Prime.”
“Uh huh. Heavy clouds, all the time? It sounds ugly.”
Casandra decided to head Ingram off and switch everyone’s focus on the investigation. “So the aliens on Rolui are pretty cooperative?”
“They were when I was there,” Conners answered. “Once we explained that blips are basically family, they were quite helpful.”
“Good,” Ingram muttered, “I don’t want any aliens giving us surprises. I hate scanning aliens.”
“It could still come to that,” Casandra said. “There’s only one major spaceport there, and it’s open to the entire sector. It was a major trade center before the Babylon Project got very far.”
Ingram revealed a vicious grin. “Once they built something that held together.”
One of the other Bloodhounds chuckled. “Good thing it’s not flammable.”
Sly, muffled laughter permeated the shuttle. The sound gave Casandra a chill worthy of a gallows. After all, as Conners had said, blips were still family. Out in the field, it was easy to forget. She reinforced her mental wall.
“My point,” she interjected, “is that we don’t know what to expect. Someone must have seen the rogues. Or is helping them. Or even exploiting them. Stay focused and watch for….”
Her board let out a warning chirp. She opened her mind to the others while she checked the scanners. Another object in hyperspace was crossing their path, on a tangent off the beacon, rather than parallel.
“Hewitt, keep us on course. I’ll get a fix.”
Ingram let herself float out of her chair, toward Casandra. “What is it.”
“Big. I can tell you that. 600 meters across.”
“If it is, I’ve never seen it before. It looks like debris except….” She glanced up at Ingram. “Symmetrical. And a power reading. It’s closing on us.”
Swearing, Ingram glided back to her seat.
“Hewitt, maximum burn.”
The kick and the roar of engines firing sent tensions rising. The telepathic background noise in the compartment was downright prickly now. Everyone overlooked it, fixed on the data Casandra passed on in word and thought. “The alien’s power reading is still pretty level,” she said. “If it has weapons, they’re not online yet. It’s slowing, but still on the same course. Hm… I think we’re being scanned now.”
“Let’s return the favor,” Ingram said. “Our way.”
Casandra looked over her shoulder, then nodded. None of them were first-contact specialists, and they needed to know what the alien’s intentions were. Hyperspace often amplified telepathic ability, so they had a good chance of reading emotions or even surface thoughts from that distance. Ingram put Conners on that job while the others put mental shields up, watching him for a reaction.
Nothing happened for a few seconds. The sharp gasp Conners made after that made everyone jump against their restraints. Then he began to convulse, shuddering, his mouth frothing, eyes rolling. His Psi-Corps pin got thrown into freefall.
When he started gurgling and moaning, Casandra spun her seat around. “Bring him out of it!”
Ingram was tearing herself out of her restraints when the scanners set off a longer, louder warning: an energy spike.
Then came white light. Deafening thunder. Screams heard within screams. And hellfire.
Phoenix–“Then The Light” © 2004 Joseph Medina
Babylon 5 TM and © 2004 Warner Bros.