Characters: Yoshino Marina, Sinthann, Daanike, Manaar Rashid, Paul Maxwell
The first pass of the Nuthorm over the Tycholan village was high, far enough above them that the villagers wouldn’t see it, but the Rangers inside the shuttle could still scan and quickly map the layout.
“They’re making it easy on us,” Rashid said. “Looks like all of them outside, in some kind of central square.”
“Yes,” Yoshino agreed, her brow and eyes set into the scope attached to the co-pilot’s scanner console. “I’ve found the Minbari. Four of them.”
“There were six Minbari stationed at the outpost,” Sinthann said.
“Chikusho! I know,” Yoshino answered. “Four still alive. Tied to a pillar in the middle of the square. One more already down.” Her voice suddenly rose sharply. “Tycholan making a move on one of the survivors. Get us turned around. Get that gas dropped. Quick!”
“Right.” Rashid pulled the Nuthorm into a side-slip turn, scrubbing speed and altitude at a stomach-churning rate as she brought the shuttle around. Sinthann jumped out of his seat in the passenger area and into the third cockpit seat, bringing up the shuttle’s weapons control console.
Yoshino glanced up, then back into the scanner. “Drop one on my mark,” she said slowly, then a fraction of a second later, “Mark!”
The first canister, already spewing out its load of pearlescent hithang soporific, dropped away from the shuttle and fell, tumbling end over end to land among the outer reaches of the crowd. Frightened, the Tycholans turned to run — then collapsed, overcome by the gas.
“Second canister, mark!” The next canister dropped away, exploding at the center of the square. Tycholans and Minbari alike dropped like discarded rag dolls in a concentric wave, meeting the wave of fallen Tycholans which had begun from the fall of the first canister.
Rashid pulled the Nuthorm around hard again, setting it down at the edge of the square, on the side where the crowd was least dense. Readying weapons and gear, the five Rangers jumped out of the shuttle and sprinted toward the fallen crowd. They split into two groups as they reached the first bodies, with Daanike, Max and Yoshino slowing as the Minbari healer started checking for mutant Tycholans while the other two Rangers pressed on, to the center of the crowd where the unwilling Minbari gods were slumped against their bonds, overcome just as their captors had been.
“Dammit, that’s creepy,” Max said as they approached the first group of alien bodies on the ground. “Looks like they’re staring. Or dead.”
“Tycholans have no eyelids,” Daanike said, almost absently as she looked them over.
“It is creepy,” Yoshino agreed, “but to our advantage. We can see right away who the mutants are, with the yellow eyes.”
“I guess,” Max said. He took his denn’bok and held it ready in both hands. “I’ll cover you both.”
“How can I help you, Healer?” Yoshino asked.
“When you spot a mutant Tycholan, turn him onto his right side, and pull the tail out straight,” Daanike said. “I can …” Her mouth worked, as if it was refusing to frame the words she wanted. Finally, she said, “I can work faster that way.”
“Right,” Yoshino said, and immediately set to work.
The next few minutes passed in almost total silence, as Yoshino moved through the crowd, identifying the mutant Tycholans and wrestling them into position for Daanike’s treatment. Max watched both of them, as well as their companions at the center of the square. Sinthann had picked up the dead Minbari, settling the body — intact, fortunately — across his broad shoulders, while Rashid cut the remaining four out of their bonds. Awake, but still dizzy and confused by the gas, they followed Rashid’s lead and began moving through the fallen crowd toward the waiting shuttle.
Yoshino was struggling to turn another Tycholan over when a scream shattered the quiet. The Tycholan she had a grip on suddenly twitched, falling out of her grasp as she stood up and turned toward the sound.
A few yards away, Daanike was on the ground, knocked flat by a Tycholan who should not have been awake at all. She screamed again and tried to twist out of reach of the lizardlike alien’s claws.
Yoshino had nanoseconds to decide what to do. Yet it seemed to her that she didn’t really decide anything — she simply reacted, lightning quick. Drawing her swords and jumping forward with one continuous motion, she cut down the Tycholan who was bending over Daanike, even as his talons were reaching for the Minbari healer’s throat. As the body fell next to her, Daanike was already rolling, scrambling to her feet. As she stowed the modified med-scanner in her satchel, her eyes were locked on Yoshino — or rather, the bleeding edges of her weapons.
“All the mutants are waking up — the gas has worn off!” Max was yelling at the top of his voice, alerting everyone to the new danger. They could see all around them the lizardlike aliens rolling onto their feet, grabbing weapons, flexing claws.
“Protect the Minbari! Protect the Minbari!” Yoshino yelled, gesturing toward Daanike and Max, who was running toward them, denn’bok at the ready. “I’ll cover your escape!” Pivoting away from Daanike and the first body, Yoshino brought her blades up to face another Tycholan who was charging forward, his yellow eyes wide and glittering. Behind him, two more of the mutants were circling, heavy clubs lined with shards of black obsidian held in clawed hands.
A loud kiai burst from her mouth as she met the mutant’s charge with a double slash that left two long rents across his torso. He took one faltering step and crashed to the ground. Yoshino moved back several steps, readying her swords again. More of the Tycholans were rising, all with brilliant yellow eyes gleaming with bloodlust and insane rage.
“We can’t just kill them.”
Her own voice filled her thoughts, and time, already slow with the adrenaline rush of battle, seemed to stop completely as the realization burned through her brain like a melting down reactor core.
I have to kill them. All of them.
She blinked, focusing again on the two Tycholans coming at her, throwing her head backwards and turning aside the blow of a club aimed at her face at the very last moment. A flying shard of obsidian nicked her cheek, and she could feel the blood running as she countered, laying one Tycholan’s torso open from shoulder to hip and half severing one leg of the second.
The next few moments, Yoshino didn’t think at all. She had trained long and hard with the swords, until she could wield them without needing to think. Ancient carbon steel met and turned aside lethal stone and glass, and bit deep into Tycholan flesh. It seemed as if all the mutants were focused on her, almost striking one another in their madness to get to the lethal whirlwind in their midst.
Even the painful crackles of plasma bolts shredding the air as Max took down two of the mutants just outside of Yoshino’s reach didn’t faze them. But it did bring Yoshino’s attention back to the situation. The Minbari scientists were free, but hadn’t yet reached the safety of the Nuthorm. And now, several of the Tycholans were moving toward them.
Yoshino sprinted towards the shuttle, putting herself between the escaping Minbari and the remaining Tycholan mutants. “Come get me!” she yelled, first in English and then in Japanese, knowing her opponents couldn’t understand the words, but guessing they could understand her intent well enough.
She refused to look at the bodies already littering the ground, some motionless, others still writhing, crawling, spilling blood into the dusty earth. I will not think about what I am doing. Not until it is finished.
The remaining Tycholan mutants took her dare, and charged. Max and Rashid, flanking the Nuthorm’s hatchway, fired off shot after shot, taking down the mutants at the outer edge of the charging mob, giving Yoshino room to move and keeping her from being totally overwhelmed by the number of her opponents. But she had begun to tire, arms feeling as if she was swinging lead weights, when a long downward slash dropped the Tycholan in front of her — and there was no one else behind him.
She looked again across the village square. The unmutated Tycholans were still sleeping soundly wherever the hithang had dropped them. The mutants too were on the ground. Most of them were quite clearly dead. But a few were not.
Blood flowed slowly down the edges of her swords, dripping ever more slowly onto the ground. It still isn’t done.
She ran back through the field of bodies, finishing off any that showed the slightest sign of life. Only then did she turn back toward the Nuthorm, and her pace slackened from a sprint to a ever more slow walk.
Max and Rashid were still standing on either side of the hatchway, while Sinthann stood at the top of the ramp. Yoshino addressed all of them. “Bring the survivors out here,” she said.