Characters: Yoshino Marina, Sinthann, Daanike, Manaar Rashid, Paul Maxwell
The trio of Rangers, two human and one Minbari, boarded the shuttle in silence. Their expressions were identical, and well matched that of the other human Ranger waiting for them.
“You saw,” Manaar Rashid said. It was all that she needed to say.
“Anla’shok Rashid described what she saw,” Sinthann said. “How could such a thing happen? Why?”
“This might tell,” Yoshino said, again producing the crystal she had found, the message left behind. “But before that — have you plotted a course to the Tycholan village?”
Rashid nodded. “Real short hop — 3.2 kilometers from here. We could just about run it faster, but –”
“No telling the condition of the prisoners,” Yoshino finished the sentence.
Rashid nodded again. “What’s our plan?”
Yoshino bit her lip as the other four Rangers looked at her, all at once. “I’ve got the beginnings of it,” she said. “Could change though, depending on this.” She dropped into the pilot’s seat, quickly reconfigured the heads-up display to take data from the crystal port, then put the crystal into place. The others joined her in watching the display.
When the Minbari who had made the recording appeared, Yoshino gasped. She had seen his head and bones outside the gate.
“I am Rothann of the Second Gale of Kyrdena, head researcher of this outpost,” he said. “I have ordered our records destroyed, but I must make our secret and our shame known to you who are watching this. I charge you with putting an end to our folly, for the sake of all Minbari — and Tycholans.”
“Lovely,” muttered Max.
“I have maintained this research station for the past forty cycles,” Rothann said. “Not long after I came here, we had our first encounter with the Seekers of Ascension. In those days they were identical genotypically to the rest of the Tycholan population. One of our researchers was set upon and killed while meeting some of the Seekers. At the time we recovered the remains, we observed the Seekers who had eaten the Minbari flesh. There were distinct signs of poisoning, and clearly observable behavioral changes. They became hyperactive, easily excitable, and exceptionally violent — they would kill and eat their fellow Tycholans if they could. Their eyes, normally shades of green to brown, became bright yellow. If left alone, the psychotic state would pass, but the eye color change was permanent. We realized that this indicated a most striking thing — an apparent genetic-level change, caused by something unique to Minbari flesh.”
There was a long pause, as Rothann stared at the floor, fidgeting. After nearly twenty painfully silent seconds, he looked back up.
“May the Universe forgive me for what I did then. I suggested — insisted — that we do nothing, tell no one else, and watch to see if the genetic alterations bred true, and what effect they might have on successive generations — and what might happen if those generations could eat Minbari flesh. We had a unique opportunity to watch the evolution of a sentient species as it happened, I said. We might even have the power to influence the force of evolution itself.”
“Another goddamn Frankenstein,” Max said. Rashid shushed him, but nodded as she did.
“We learned that the mutation caused by the consumption of Minbari flesh does indeed breed true. The present adult generation are the third of the mutated Seekers. They are susceptible to being whipped into frenzy by their fellows, a rage which is turned into an absolutely uncontrollable murderous madness if they can taste Minbari flesh and blood. Several of our researchers have sacrificed themselves to prove this.”
“Willingly or otherwise, I wonder,” Yoshino remarked softly.
A distant roaring sound could be heard in the recording. Rothann looked away, then turned back toward the camera, speaking more urgently. “Beware. The Tycholans with yellow eyes are the permanently mutated. Any other Tycholans who eat Minbari flesh are poisoned. They are incapacitated for several days before dying, or go into the rage state and become mutants themselves.
“We estimate there are twenty-five mutants, and an unknown number susceptible to mutation. The mutants are a danger to themselves, their fellow Tycholans, and Minbari. They must be stopped before they do any more harm. They are here, now, come for all of us.”
The roaring had gotten louder, condensing into a series of heavy impacts. Rothann glanced away again, then back at the camera. His voice became frantic. “We have asked for help from home. I presume you watching this are that help. Destroy the mutants and ensure the susceptible can never be mutated. Please. For the sake of the Tycholans, and us –”
The door behind Rothann shattered, and the image went black.
“Kannon,” Yoshino said. “What a mess.”
“Frankenstein?” asked Daanike.
“A Human legend,” Sinthann said. “I’ll tell you about it later.”
“What are we going to do?” Max asked.
“What he asked us to do,” Yoshino answered. “End this. Chaplain Sinthann. Do we have any hithang gas aboard?”
He nodded slowly. “Yes. Several canisters.”
“Good. Healer Daanike, would the hithang affect the Tycholans the same way it does Minbari?”
“Yes,” she said. “Actually, it would render a Tycholan unconscious for an hour or more, where Minbari are usually unconscious only a few minutes.”
“Even better. We can drop the gas, and Daanike and Sinthann can rescue the Minbari prisoners while Max, Rashid and I identify and capture the mutated Tycholans. We should be able to come up with some means to hold them at the research station until the Minbari can reach a more permanent solution.”
“You sure that’ll work?” Max asked. “We saw what they did to the energy fence.”
“And I can’t help but think it’s cruel,” Rashid said. “I’m no bleeding heart, but they don’t understand that they’re doing wrong. We can’t ever make them understand.”
“I’m not all that happy with the idea either,” Yoshino said, “but we can’t just kill them. What other choice do we have?”
“I … may have one,” Daanike said hesitantly. “I think.”
“What is it?” Yoshino asked.
“I have a good understanding of the Tycholans’ anatomy and physiology,” she said, her voice getting stronger and more assured as she continued. “With some help from Anla’shok Maxwell, I could modify one of my medical scanners to emit a focused pulse of radiation at a much greater intensity than is used for scanning. A pulse of radiation that strong delivered at the proper location would render each of the mutated Tycholans permanently sterile. They would be otherwise unharmed, and would most likely never know what had happened.”
“You are sure this would work?” Yoshino asked. “Would it take long to make the modifications?”
“I think I know what she needs me to do,” Max said. “I could do it while we do the flyover and gas drop.”
Yoshino nodded. “All right. Then we’ll drop the gas, and once it’s taken effect, Sinthann and Rashid will rescue the Minbari. Max and I will help Daanike identify the mutated Tycholans and cover her while she carries out … the operations. Are we clear?”
Everyone nodded. “Rashid, take the pilot’s chair — you’ll be able to handle a short hop and the flyover better than I. I’ll take co-pilot so Max can help Daanike. Get strapped in, everyone.”
They hurried to their places. Max grabbed a toolkit as Daanike dug a scanner out of her bag and handed it to him.
Rashid strapped in, looked to make sure everyone was settled, and fired the Nuthorm’s thrusters.