To Serve the Gods, Part 1

Characters: Yoshino Marina, Sinthann, Daanike, Manaar Rashid, Paul Maxwell

After ten days on her own, Yoshino Marina was starting to feel the first prickling of stir-craziness. It felt more than a little familiar – during the Phoenix’s last major repair and refit following the devastating mission into Vorlon space, she, alone among the command crew, had stayed with the ship throughout.

Looking down at the Phoenix now from her control chamber in the orbital drydock, she began to consider how she might ask her superiors for a different temporary assignment, or at least some leave. Before she had gotten very far, her comm suddenly broke the contemplative silence with the discordant screech of the critical signal.

Bringing the whole of her focus to the status boards in front of her, Yoshino looked for the source of the alarm. With some surprise she realized that it was a direct call to her, even as the voice of the Phoenix’s Council liaison came over the speaker. “Nesaan to Anla’shok Yoshino, respond at once!”

“Yoshino here.”

“Anla’shok Yoshino, you are required immediately. Report to the landing field in the shuttle Nuthorm. Chaplain Sinthann and the rest of your task group will meet you there and Chaplain Sinthann will deliver your briefing. You will be in command for this mission.”

“Understood.” Yoshino tried to relax and slow the suddenly rapid-fire beating of her heart. “Is there anything I should bring with me?”

“Anything you may need for a mission off-planet that does not take you additional time to gather. And your weapons.”

“Very well. What about – ”

“Any instructions you need to relay may be sent back once you are in transit,” Nesaan said. “Lives are depending on the speed with which you set forth. Nesaan out.”

Yoshino swallowed, then began locking down her station in the drydock, at the same time summoning a transfer pod to take her across to the Phoenix. The shuttle Nuthorm was still in the ship’s docking bay.

Once in the pod, she took the few minutes needed for transfer to the Phoenix to take several slow, deep breaths. She then looked at the bench seat at the back of the pod. The pair of swords she had brought with her from Earth lay where she had set them. Since she had learned of their true age and lineage, they rarely left her sight. She picked them up and quickly, but deliberately, tucked them into her belt. As soon as the pod settled in the Phoenix’s docking bay, she sprinted across the deck and into the shuttle Nuthorm, going through the preflight checklist as quickly as she could.

It wasn’t until the Minbari armored shuttle was plunging toward the main landing field of the Anla’shok base in Tuzanor that Yoshino began to realize that she might well be getting a good deal more than what she had wished for just a few minutes earlier.

Within moments of the Nuthorm’s landing, Yoshino could see the tall, spare figure of Sinthann, the Minbari religious caste who acted as the Phoenix’s chaplain. Yoshino had often thought that with the plethora of religions humans subscribed to – not to mention the fairly substantial number who professed no religion at all – that Sinthann had a particularly thankless job. Yet he seemed to enjoy it, always greeting Yoshino with a quiet smile. Today, however, his expression was grim as he pulled an anti-grav cart loaded with supplies behind him.

Not far behind Sinthann came two human Rangers. She recognized them as Manaar Rashid, one of the Desell Squadron pilots, and Paul Maxwell, the lead maintenance tech for Storm Squadron. Both of them had the same purposeful look that Yoshino imagined she herself did, and they each carried a heavy plasma rifle across their back.

Just behind them, hurrying as fast as her robes and the large supply bag she was carrying would permit, was the Phoenix’s second medical officer, the Minbari healer Daanike.

Yoshino greeted each of the four in turn, opening the Nuthorm’s cargo hatch and helping Sinthann load the contents of his cart. Rashid and Maxwell pitched in as well, while Daanike boarded the shuttle to stow her gear.

Rashid paused a moment as she picked up the last box on the cart, looking from its label to Sinthann. The Minbari was already folding up the cart and turning to board the shuttle, and did not look back. Wordlessly Rashid handed the box to Yoshino, who stowed it away, but not before reading the label herself. The translation to English was simple and grim.

Body bags.