Characters: Yoshino Marina, Paul Maxwell, Manaar Rashid, Daanike, Sinthann
All was quiet inside the Nuthorm’s passenger compartment. Rashid was stretched out in her seat, fast asleep, as was Sinthann. Daanike was studying something, with her porta-comp linked to the shuttle’s data storage.
Yoshino, at the pilot’s station, looked across at her co-pilot. “Still another two point five hours before we reach the Tychola jumpgate,” she said, before glancing around the cabin. “I think we’re on our own for a while.”
Max smiled. “Looks like it.” He watched Yoshino for a minute, then spoke as she turned to stare out the window. “Something on your mind, Yoshino-san?”
“I wish … Tombo-chan was here. Chief Darquin,” she added quickly, blushing a little.
“It’s okay,” Max said. “So do I. We could use all the help we can get, I think.” He paused, thinking. “Tombo-chan. ‘Little dragonfly,’ isn’t it?”
“Something like that. Or ‘darling dragonfly.'” Her blush deepened.
“Oh, don’t be embarrassed,” he said. “You’re so lucky. Gives me hope.”
“Me? How so?”
“You found the man of your dreams,” Max said. “Maybe now I can too.”
“That’s true,” she said, allowing a brief smile to lighten her expression for a moment. “I’m sure he’s out there somewhere, just waiting for you.” She looked out the window again, and sighed. “I’m not so sure about being in command. I’ll do my best, but …”
“You’ll be fine.”
“It’s just … this sounds like such an ugly business. And I’m afraid it’s going to get worse.” She shook her head a little, as if by doing so she could make the details of their briefing go away….
“We are being dispatched to Tychola II, a planet within the Minbari Protectorate,” Sinthann had said. “The native species of sentients are reptilian, highly empathic, highly spiritual, but have only just begun to discover metalworking.”
“I served an internship on Tychola,” Daanike said. “They had a highly developed religion, as I recall.”
“Yes,” Sinthann agreed. “Certain details are not important at this moment, though we can review them in transit. What is important to know for now is that the Tycholans regard Minbari as … divine.”
He looked across at Yoshino, who had gasped audibly at the last remark. She flushed at Sinthann’s look and covered her mouth with one hand.
“The practice of making ourselves known to less advanced species is not without controversy, even among we Minbari,” Sinthann said. “But that is, as you humans might say, ‘water under the bridge.’ Until a short time ago, it was not a matter of concern. Then the manager of one of the research outposts we maintain on Tychola revealed that a new cult had arisen among the Tycholans. They refer to themselves as “the Seekers of Ascension,” and they believe that to become one with the gods, they must consume the gods.”
“Consume? As in eat? Literally?” Rashid asked.
“Yes. The Protectorate Xenobiological Institute alerted the Anla’shok about this development. Then about two hours ago, they informed us they had received a distress call from the Tychola outpost. It was being approached by a group of Tycholans, with members of the Seekers of Ascension at their head.
“Our assignment is to go to the outpost, investigate, and either protect, rescue or recover the researchers. Healer Daanike and I will remain aboard the shuttle at all times. We have maps of the research outpost and surrounding areas, as well as the detailed information about the Tycholans and their principal religion and culture. Do you have any questions, Anla’shok?”
“What are our rules of engagement?” Yoshino asked.
“We think the cult called the Seekers of Ascension is isolated — both geographically and socially. If that is the case, you are authorized to use any means necessary, including deadly force, to deal with the threat.”
“Don’t blame you for thinking it’s gonna get worse,” Max said. “I mean, getting cast as deus ex machina — literally. To confront a pack of religious fanatic, fighting cannibals. What’s not to like?”
“Hai,” Yoshino said. She looked back down at the console, where the maps and data files on the Tycholans waited for her to continue looking through them. “I just can’t help but think …”
“Something’s missing. I can’t help but think there should be a lot more information here, if the researchers have been working in this particular region for so long. Someone — maybe the researchers themselves, maybe the Institute — is holding something back from us.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time some Minbari decided not to tell the whole story,” Max said, the irony clear in his voice. “But I’ll bet it’s never come back to bite them in the ass quite like this.”