Characters: Yoshino Marina, Sinthann, Daanike, Manaar Rashid, Paul Maxwell
*** Reader discretion advised. Still gruesome, and will be until the end of this series. –jamie ***
Yoshino and Max returned to the entryway. Daanike, her face pale, was looking around the scene of carnage, while Rashid examined a control panel mounted in a nearby wall. The Minbari healer looked up from the footprints she’d been studying and spoke to Yoshino. “This is all consistent with the Tycholans,” she said. “Their footprints, and those are their glyphs on the walls. I just don’t understand. They were peaceful — gentle, even — when I served my internship. Not remotely like this.”
“Your internship — was it at this base?” Yoshino asked.
“No, another one, on another continent.”
“People change,” Rashid commented, looking over her shoulder at them. “Cultures differ, especially across that kind of distance.”
“Not as much as this! And not the Tycholans,” Daanike said. “We observed a low-level empathic connection between nearly all the members of the species. It kept their culture and language relatively homogeneous planet-wide.”
“What happened to the Minbari at the gate?” Yoshino asked. “I thought the Tycholans had only just developed basic metallurgy. They shouldn’t have tools capable of such precise and extensive cutting.”
Daanike swallowed hard. “Not metal, no. But Tycholans all over the planet use narothel — volcanic glass. It’s fragile, but if worked properly can give an incredibly sharp edge, as sharp as a molecule wide.”
Yoshino nodded. “I remember now. Primitive humans did the same.” She glanced at Max, then back to Daanike. “See if you can read the glyphs,” she said. “Max and I have one more corridor to check.”
They worked their way up the corridor. All the rooms were empty, and largely bare of any but the most basic furnishing, as Yoshino would have expected from the Minbari. By an unspoken agreement, they waited until last to check the room to which — or from which — the blood trail led. A small plate on the door informed them that this had been the room of Rothann, the base’s chief researcher.
The door swung silently open as Yoshino nudged it with a toe. Cautiously, she entered, looked quickly around, then gestured for Max to follow.
Like the others, this room was sparsely furnished, with a Minbari bed on one wall and a desk and chair on another. A small terminal sat on the desk. The crystal port had a data crystal in it, and it was blinking brightly. Yoshino took a closer look. “There’s a file on the crystal,” she said. “A recording, made a little over six hours ago.”
“A message?” asked Max. “We should be so lucky.”
As Yoshino was reaching for the crystal, her link chirped. She quickly slipped the crystal into a pocket and brought the link up to her mouth. “Yoshino. Go.”
“Rashid. I’ve been able to download the footage from the recorders set on the perimeter.” The pilot’s voice was shaky, as if the connection was bad — though Yoshino knew it was not. “You should see this.”
“We’ll be right there.” She closed down the connection and led the way out of the room.
Rashid had found a chair and small table, where she had set up her porta-comp. She was turned away from it when Yoshino and Max re-entered the room, and Daanike was patting her gently on the shoulder. “There it is,” Rashid said. “Explains how the Tycholans got in.”
“And I have been able to translate the glyphs,” Daanike added. “I think. They are largely nonsense. Ravings.”
“What exactly do they say?” Yoshino asked.
Daanike half turned, pointed at one line of figures scrawled in blood. “That one says, ‘The food of the gods is death, or the bloodlust of eternity.'” She pointed at another, shorter line. “That one says, ‘Soon we shall all share in the feast of death or blood.”
“Makes enough sense to me,” Max said. “They’ve taken the other Minbari back home. The rest of ’em are going to get what that poor sod out front got.”
Yoshino nodded. “Let’s look at the recording from out front, then the message.” She pulled the data crystal out of her pocket, showing it to Rashid and Daanike. “It’s apparently from the base’s chief researcher, made at about the same time as the call for help.”
As Yoshino was about to activate the porta-comp, Rashid said, “Is there something else you need me to do? I’d …” she paused, swallowed hard. “I’d rather not watch it again.”
Yoshino paused a moment. “Yes,” she said. “Max has a map, which should show the nearest Tycholan villages. Take it and go back to the Nuthorm, and plot courses. We’ll need to move fast.”
Rashid nodded, took the map from Max, and quickly left the building.
Yoshino looked at Max, then at Daanike, and finally to Rashid’s porta-comp on the small table. What did she see, Yoshino wondered. Of all of us here, she’s the only one with a military background. The last person I expected to be overwhelmed by this.
She activated the porta-comp, and the footage appeared on the screen. She bent forward to watch, Max looking over one shoulder and Daanike over the other.
The camera angle showed the front gates and a section of the perimeter wall on either side. The gate was open. Several Minbari were standing in front of the open gateway, looking out. They were talking, but their voices were too low to make out. Then they both started shouting — calling to one of their colleagues, Yoshino guessed — in loud, anxious voices.
A moment later another Minbari ran through the gate, stumbling and falling halfway between the gate and the door. “Close the gates, the barriers, keep them out, they’re all coming, they’re all mad!” he said, in a terrified rush of Lenn-ah. As one of his companions helped him up, the other quickly followed his order. Over the low humming of the barrier, now could be heard the sounds of shouts, screams, and a heavy, steady drumbeat.
The Minbari fled inside the building. Outside the barrier, a crowd of bipedal, reptilian creatures approached. They vaguely resembled pictures of carnivorous dinosaurs, Yoshino thought, though their heads — and arms — were much more in proportion to the rest of the body than any T-Rex. Their hands were startlingly similar to a human’s, though their nails were were long and cruel, not quite talons.
The crowd was densely packed, and in constant motion, but Yoshino thought she could count at least two dozen individuals. Most had large eyes that were a disturbing, luminous yellow. Many were chanting, a loud, insistent sound that melded with the drumbeat to create a steady pounding that seemed to drive the Tycholans before it like the foam on a wave.
Several of the Tycholans at the front of the crowd walked straight on into the barely-visible energy barrier, and as one, they were thrown back, against the others. The crowd started shifting, breaking apart and reforming as it tried to pass through the barrier without success. The chanting trailed away, replaced by grumbling and angry shouts. The drumming continued, and a shudder ran through Yoshino’s body as she watched the Tycholans becoming more enraged.
Something is going to give, she thought, dreading what it could be.
Then, without warning, one of the Tycholans stepped out of the screaming, howling mob, running full speed directly at the barrier. The static field pushed him back, but he twisted his body, forcing himself to stay in contact with it.
Yoshino stifled a gasp of horror with one hand as she watched the reptilian body, now trapped in the energy field, limbs spasming as if it were a rag doll on a string. The crystalline pylons glowed deep blue, then red, then black as they overloaded, one by one. The field finally collapsed, dropping the Tycholan to the ground as his fellows shrieked and charged. Without hesitation, they began ripping the body to pieces.
The muttered obscenity from Max was almost drowned out by a wail from Daanike, but Yoshino could not look away from the spectacle of carnage on the porta-comp screen. The reptilian creatures were like a school of sharks in a feeding frenzy, biting and tearing at the dead one and sometimes one another. Chunks of bleeding flesh went flying as they were thrown to the rest of the mob. Within moments, all that remained of the first Tycholan were blood-spattered bones. The mob turned, gathered itself, and rushed through the broken perimeter. With blood still dripping from their mouths, they charged the main building, where the Minbari had retreated.
Yoshino stared at the screen of the porta-comp for several seconds after it went dark. Finally she closed the porta-comp with a hard slap at the lid, almost knocking it off the table. She snatched it up and started for the door. “Back to the shuttle. No time to lose.”