With Ryath’s guidance, the Rangers bided their time. She tracked Lord Cheys’ guards with mere blinks of her eye, informing them in hushed and masterful tones. Morgan led Carlacci and Darquin in an anxious waiting game from behind one of the techno-mage’s illusions, standing in a corridor within Lord Cheys’ estate on the Abbai homeworld.
“The guards are heading toward his study now,” Ryath announced quietly.
“They’re done looking for his valets or whatever?” Darquin said.
“Yes. They’re taking them to meet their master, I believe.” Her sapphire eyes flickered as she checked all the faces she saw through her probes. “His valets are all Abbai children, as you suspected.”
Darquin shook his head as he put his back and one of his booted feet to a wall. Carlacci swore under his breath.
Morgan began to pace. “Do you know where this study is?”
“I believe I do.” The holographic image of a blueprint sparkled into existence from the palm of her open hand. “On the surface it resembles a guest bedroom: a small bed here, silk curtains and the like masking the contents of the room from the outside.” The hologram schematic zoomed out to a wider floor plan. “It’s not far from here. This emergency stairwell can take us there quickly. There is no foot traffic on this level or the one below, so this may be your best chance.”
Morgan stepped forward, waiting for the mage’s signal before she nodded to Darquin and Carlacci and led them around the corner to the stairwell.
Carlacci followed Morgan.
Morgan paused outside the door, waiting for Darquin. “Ready?”
Carlacci nodded. He nodded and waved them on, maintaining his slow but stealthy pace.
Morgan took the lead, opening the door again and slipping through.
The Rangers found themselves in a corridor of lush curtains. Murmurs lay at the far end of the path. At the door, Darquin poked a finger into the cloth, looking for where it parted. “I’ll look around.”
Looking past the sea of curtains, they saw a handful of Abbai children standing in dark trousers and ornate Centauri vests before a heavyset Centauri male, dressed in the usual attire for a Centauri merchant of means.
Under his plume of fiery red hair, Cheys’ cool grin faded into view. “Children! It is late, but I had to see you. Your work has been excellent. Now you can make me even prouder. There’s more ducats in it too.”
Some of the Abbai children’s eyes grew wide.
He waited a moment, letting them taste their anticipation, before addressing his hulking henchmen for a moment. “You see? Bright, enterprising young children. I have a little trouble with a client, you see, and I need your help. Can I count on you?” Encouraging them, he led the instantaneous array of nodding heads. “Thank you.”
He waved his men over. “There, we can fill the quota now. Simple. Didn’t I say it was?”
The Abbai children looked around in horror as Cheys’ guards closed in on them.
Carlacci’s left hand flew up to still the violent twitching of his jaw muscles.
“Oh,” Cheys added, “and tell Gulad to go to the villages in the morning and get some new valets.”
Morgan nudged Carlacci, then nodded — they were about to change things.
Carlacci burst from behind the curtains, letting his rage free in a battle cry — and a swing of his pike to the throat of the nearest guard.
Following Carlacci’s lead, Darquin bounded out of the curtains behind Cheys’ chair, whooping as he kicked off the chair and launched himself into the room. Cheys was sent tumbling backward, arms and legs flailing as he disappeared and crashed behind the curtains.
During his whiplash descent, Darquin extended his fighting pike and lashed out at the nearest opponent, rolling onto his side as he hit the ground. He jumped to his feet and ran into another guard. “Pardon!” He thumped his pike into the guard’s midsection and knocked his feet out from under him as he completed the sweep.
“Children, go to the corner and stay there!” Carlacci yelled in Abbai. He didn’t have time to see if they listened, ducking a vicious punch from another guard.
Morgan was last, but not in spirit. She leaped in, opening her pike partway in to turn it into a vault. She brought her feet up, collided with a guard. Oddly, Morgan laughed — it tended to unnerve people – and rolled back up, ready to go again.
Carlacci made another duck low, then feinted to one side, drawing his opponent forward and off balance — in perfect position for Carlacci to rebound upward and bring the end of his pike up and into the guard’s chin. The humanoid’s head snapped back hard and he fell even harder.
Darquin abandoned his pike long enough to indulge in several fierce exchanges of blows, howling with each hit he scored. Shoving an off-balance thug into the curtains, he nearly jumped when his foe bounced with a clang against a hidden support beam and fell.
“Uh…watch that spot, guys!”
Morgan found herself facing a thug who thought he was something. She bared her teeth at him and proved him wrong. In the half-second of hesitation he’d given her, she reached out and took him down with a serpent-fast head-butt.
Carlacci drew a deep breath, looking around for more targets.
Darquin nodded at the path out. “How we doing? Should I get the door?”
“Go ahead,” Morgan called out. “Nearly finished fumigating in here.”
“On it.” He ran for the door.
“Yeah, right with you,” Carlacci said, hurrying over to the corner where the children stood in a frightened huddle. “Don’t be afraid,” he told them. “We’re going to take you somewhere safe, but you have to be quiet and do exactly as we say. All right?”
The nods came slowly, hesitantly.
“Good. Follow that man there.” He pointed toward Darquin. “I’ll be right with you.”
Morgan watched the children and Carlacci out of the corner of her eye as she dispatched the last of them.
Ryath left them to their fun and made her way up a level, tracking the strange energy source that had eluded her before. Using the shadows instead of her illusions, she silently walked up to the door of the room it was in.
“Damn!” she whispered. She had tried to access the security cameras but found this was the only room without a camera in it.
Resorting to the un-tech way to listen, she lent her head gently against the door, slowed her breathing so nothing would muffle the sounds within. She could her someone moving around, it sounded like they were searching for something, muttering under their breath in Centauri. The voice was male and she thought there was a gravelly quality to it.
I have to find out who this is!….and make sure the others can get out.
The tech was racing, her own agitation echoing through it.
Darquin signaled the all-clear and stepped into the corridor, wading through the children as the others came out. “No sign of Cheys.”
“If we’re lucky, he’s out cold,” Carlacci said. “If not –”
“I know,” Morgan said. “The pilot ought to run on ahead and warm the shuttle up.”
“You two know Abbai?”
“Oh yeah.” Darquin shrugged and smiled. “I’ll be rock. Who wants scissors?”
“I’ll take it.” Another dangerous grin of hers — fortunately, they were all the same side.
He turned to Carlacci, half-serious. “Maybe one of us oughta hit the shuttle. I think she’s in the zone.”
“Time for this paper to fly. Take care of them!” He nodded toward the children, then sprinting away.
“After you, Pied Piper,” he said to Morgan. “I’m on our six.”
Morgan nodded. She schooled her expression as she passed the kids, smiling at them, then heads for the shuttle.
Ahead of Carlacci, a door opened. A leathery creature, too thin for a Drazi, with two pointed crests at the back of its head charged into the hallway, a pistol in its hand.
Carlacci’s breath caught in his throat for only a fraction of a second, before he gathered himself and dived forward, aiming for the alien’s feet.
Snarling, the alien fired a random plasma burst into the ceiling as the Ranger took him down.
Morgan whirled, just in time to see. “Stop!” she barked at the children, as she dashed back to help.
Darquin raised his arms to shield the row of children in front of him as he turned around and drew his PPG.
Carlacci scrambled to his feet, pike expanding in his hand as his eyes flashed over the alien’s form, gauging vulnerable spots. The creature kicked out at Carlacci’s feet as it turned and aimed. The Ranger threw himself backward to the floor, out of reach of the alien and leaving the other Rangers a clear field of fire.
Morgan didn’t hesitate — she dropped herself onto the alien’s legs, grabbing for its gun arm. Wrestling with her for the gun, the creature gasped as it fell out of its claw-like hand. She snarled something at it as she put a knee on that wrist. It growled back with an angry in an unknown tongue. Carlacci rolled to his knees, changing his grip on his pike to bring it down across the alien’s face, between its eyes and mouth.
“Clear to move?” Darquin called to them.
“Yeah!” Carlacci yelled back, jumping to his feet, resuming his dash for the shuttle.
Morgan hesitated a moment longer, fixing its features in memory for later comparison, then followed.
The alien caught her glance, returning it with a glare. “Yes, remember this face, Anla’shok!” it said in Minbari.
“Why should I?” she retorted in the same. “Too ugly to bother with.”
“Revenge is ugly,” it snapped back.
“Yes? I’m no stranger to that either.”
Darquin gently but quickly ushered the children past them. “Look, just leave your name and addy, okay? We’re kinda busy.”
The creature smirked, “Yes, you are,” looking past them with anticipation.
Morgan was getting annoyed. She punched what looked like a vulnerable spot, near its temple, before getting up.
“Thanks,” Darquin said curtly, glancing where the alien had directed them. Four more creatures, in white skull-like masks were running toward them. “Oh great.”
Morgan climbed over the unconscious alien, in search of clear footing. “Cover!”
“On it!” He flattened himself against the floor beside their silent opponent and several desperate potshots at the approaching aliens. “I’ll check our reservations!”
Carlacci was crossing the roof garden, bolting through moonlight, past brush and hedges, when Darquin’s voice came over his hand link.
“Yo, Pete! How’s traffic!”
“Not bad!” Carlacci said, the shuttle in sight. “Almost there!”
“Then heat ’em up! They sure are!”
The channel closed as Carlacci decoded the entry hatch. He dove inside, not waiting for the boarding ramp to extend, and headed for the cockpit. He pulled his own PPG and slapped it onto the helm console, diving into the pilot’s chair, as he started the check sequence and pre-fired the slumbering engines. “Come on, come on….”
Phoenix–“Trick of the Tail (Part 4)” (c) 2001 Leslie McBride, Niki Hipwood, Jamie Lawson, Joseph Medina
Babylon 5 TM and (c) 2001 Warner Bros.