Trick of the Tail, Part 5

Characters: Margaret Morgan, Peter Carlacci, Ryath Oaks, Tomás Darquin

Ryath had let her concentration lax at the sudden appearance of the Drakh. Somehow they had hidden their energy from her. Seeing through some of her probes the Anla’shok dispatch the Drakh, she focused once more on the Centauri in the room in front of her. As she lent forward to listen again, she heard the door click. Quickly she threw an illusion over herself and slid back into the shadows. The Centauri stood well over six foot, and wore a hooded cloak. Ryath found out why when he looked her way. His face was covered in gray scales and his eyes were jet black.

He was taking an interest in the noises coming from below. Now she had to act. Dissolving the illusion, Ryath stepped forward and conjured a protective shield over her.

The sudden motion caught his eye and the Centauri turned to face her. “Ah…you are here.”

She was right. He spoke like the Drakh.

He removed his hood. There stood the typical Centauri hair fanned out about his head. She wasn’t sure what he was, but she would show no concern.

“I am here, as we both knew I would be.” Her voice was sure and strong.

“Where are the rest of you?”

The question wasn’t unexpected, just she thought it would be more subtle. “If I knew, do you really think I would tell you?”

“You think we cannot get the information. You are foolish, like your brothers were. We will get what we want, and then kill you!”

She had known what to expect, so didn’t get at all flustered at the threat. She opened a file Galen had sent her, in her mind’s eye. He had warned her what to look for. She scanned around the Centauri for static shapes, found none, so relaxed a little.

Her sensors let her know that Morgan and the others were on their way towards her. She extended the shield to cover the entire hallway, and stepped closer to the Centauri.

“I won’t allow you to interrupt them!” She allowed her voice to show her anger.

“We have no real interest in them. However, Lord Cheys may wish we had detained them.” The smile that formed on his face was more a grimace.

She still shuddered a little.


 

Morgan was leading the sprint into the warehouse loft, dogging the lock with the tip of her fighting pike and body-checking the door open as she urged the children onward.

Behind them, Darquin was keeping low and busy, firing plasma bolts at the ceiling and triggering the fire extinguisher units in the hallway. He was afraid that Cheys had been using cheap water sprinklers, which could have turned the energy weapon exchange into a plasma firestorm. Luckily Cheys had splurged on CO-2 and flame-retardant foam sprays.

Morgan waited for him to barge through the door before heading on. “Why didn’t you do that a few weeks ago!”

“Dolak’s place didn’t even have–” He gasped when he saw the children running to the islands of metal crates. “Stop! Stay there!”

“What’s wrong,” Morgan asked.

“If we trip the security sensors, we’re all dead.”

Morgan sighed. Now she remembered her order to wire those sensor to the booby traps of his choice. “Stay right there!” she called to the children. “Okay? Stay there and wait for us!”

Thinking quickly, Darquin muttered a curse and thumbed his link. He had to call someone else to clean up the mess he’d made. He only hoped that addressing her directly wouldn’t make things worse.

“Ryath!” He got no reply, but he knew she must have been tracking them. “Ryath, you copy?” As Morgan met his uneasy glance, he shrugged. “I’m sure she can hear us.”

He kept the comm channel open for a few more seconds. Someone could home in on it, but Morgan could slap his hand any time she wanted. No matter how he sliced it, this was his responsibility.

As he closed the channel, a chill crept into his bones. “I’m going back for her.”

“Two minutes, then we move.”

“Two–got it!”

Charging the security door, Darquin nearly dislodged his shoulder pulling it open enough to squeeze himself past it. He ran through the corridor, following the murmurs of alien conversation, and scurried down the emergency staircase at the other end, throwing glances at the lower landings until he saw Ryath’s shroud-like shape. Jumping over the railing, he landed next to her with his fighting pike ready.

“Hey, blue eyes! Need a hand?”

Ryath was annoyed at Darquin for coming back, but held her voice calm. “Why did you return, Tomás?”

“Sensor net in the loft needs to be cracked. Besides the party’s not the same without ya.”

A rush of air flew through the hallway as a slight blue tinge painted itself around him. Tentatively he reached out to it and quickly pulled his hand back from the tingling, almost slimy feeling. He smiled despite himself. So that was a deflector shield.

His smile flickered a moment as he saw something move in the darkness behind her. For misdirection, he gave the shield a playful tap, triggering a ripple of static across the energy field.

Ryath closed her eyes and pictured the security schematic in her mind’s eye. The sensor network was more sophisticated than it seemed. Lots of dead ends, trips and traps. But there– she saw it clearly– the circuit to shut off the sensor beams upstairs.

“Done!” was all she said, expecting Darquin to leave.

“Boss,” Darquin said into his link, “we’re ready to move out! On my way!”

The Centauri thought Ryath was distracted with the Ranger about, and took the opportunity by rushing her. Even as his hands slipped off the shield, he didn’t go down. Ryath wasn’t fazed by the attack. She had already noted his increase in heart rate and breathing before he rushed her.

The failed attack increased the Centauri’s anger. Ryath noted a strange, but somewhat familiar energy increasing about the Centauri’s head. There was a slight vibration around her and Darquin. She glanced over her shoulder. Darquin was doubling over, holding his ears, oblivious to the folded pike clanging on the floor. She had to do something before Darquin was seriously injured.

She lowered her shield and rushed towards the Centauri, conjuring high voltage through her hands. Unprepared, the Centauri was unable to avoid the crude and sudden attack. Ryath grabbed his head, the voltage flowing from her to him. Immediately the vibration ceased.

He stood there, Ryath hanging from his head. Something was wrong, she tried to remove her hands, cold creeping into them, but they wouldn’t move. The next thing she felt was the voltage returning from the Centauri. It burned into her hands and around her wrists, as pictures swam into her mind–pictures of a childhood she never had, of frightening things being done to her, that she knew never happened.

She screamed as the Centauri collapsed, dragging her down on top of him, the voltage increasing, sending spikes of pain up her arms.

Woozy, Darquin pulled himself off the ground the moment he heard her. Madre de Dios, the whole house must have heard it. The instant he realized Ryath was laying across another body, he scrambled toward them. The slight fall and rise of her back told him she wasn’t dead.

Then he noticed the small puddle of blood forming between them.

“Ryath!” he whispered.

She moaned back at him, getting up on the knuckles of her scorched hands. Overwhelmed by the pain, she collapsed again.

Ryath knew she was injured quite badly. The pain in what remained of her hands and wrists was intense, and her side felt sore and wet. Darquin’s eyes gave away how serious he thought it was.

She didn’t care. She was finding it hard to focus; images of a life she never lived flashed before her eyes; and her own systems had been affected by the backflow of voltage.

He caught a glimpse of the wound just under her rib cage and, in the darkness ahead, a scaly five-fingered hand. A grey, scaly mouth formed a smile in the dark as a Centauri stiletto came into view, stained red.

“Son of a—”

Darquin drew his PPG, growling out the incoherent fragments of a curse, lighting up the empty corridor with each plasma burst. He took a bead on the slightest dark movement in the lightning blue flickers of his barrage. The corridor was smelling of ozone and rust, burning air and blood. Something cried out and scurried into the shadows beyond. He didn’t stop until it was impossible to track. At least now it wasn’t in range to strike at them anymore.

He holstered his gun and picked Ryath up under her arms. “Can you walk? We gotta get you to Medlab. C’mon! Ryath!”

Ryath shook him off. “I’m all right!”

She took two steps before she collapsed. Darquin moved to catch her, eased her to her knees before reluctantly letting her shoulders go. “I’m not gonna leave you here! You helped me–let me help you! C’mon!”

She nodded and held one of her burnt hands up to him. The organelles in Ryath’s body started the repairs on her body by switching off the pain receptors around the areas of injury.

He grabbed her arm and hauled her up over his shoulders. Tapping his folded pike with the tip of his boot, he knocked it onto his foot and kicked it into his open hand. The moment he reached the top, he sprinted down the next corridor. Adrenaline was telling him this was the lightest fireman’s carry on record, the shortest hall he’d ever crossed. And he raised no doubts until he was face to face with the security door.

PPG shots crackled around them, racing overhead. His first instinct was to turn around and return fire, but it wasn’t just him anymore. He planted his foot on the security door, putting her weight as well as his own into it until there was clearance enough for both of them, then ran like hell through the cargo hold.

Her blood was soaking into his uniform around his shoulders, feverish and humid, cooling the faster he went.

He passed an open crate in the cargo maze, one of the Abbai defense components he had hacked into earlier. Its generator was still humming. Running, he glanced at the comlink on his hand, wishing. He kept his eyes on the exit on the shallow stairwell up ahead, zig-zagging to evade the boiling gunfire. Even if his old plan could still work, their survival still depended on him reaching the roof garden on the other side of that door.

Ryath murmured into his shoulder.

“Still with me, blue eyes?”

“Re…route.”

She sounded like she was going into shock. He focused instead on the stairwell bobbing toward them. The way out. There, they’d be free and clear of–

The jury-rig. Ryath was saying she had rerouted the hotwired jury-rig.

He poured on speed, narrowly missing the metal rail, and flattened the back of his free hand against the wall as he held Ryath. Anticipating a mad dash, he’d programmed his link to send the signal if he hit every key at once.

He scrambled up the stairs as the blinding pay-off flashed into being. A wave of shattered metal erupted as bright forcewalls encompassed the cargo hold behind him. In future, maybe Cheys would think about keeping a fully charged shield generator.


 

Egged on by the shuttle’s humming power systems, Morgan led the children’s moonlight charge through the roof garden, toward the shuttle Lartiel. Morgan keyed her hand link. A boarding ramp slide down as the Lartiel’s hatch dilated like an opening iris. Like a shepherd in a stampede, she guided the children to the acceleration chairs in the troop compartment. Carlacci ran out of the cockpit to help her buckle several kids into their seats in record time.

“I got the rest, just go!” Morgan told him.

She was about to continue when Darquin rushed into the shuttle. “Stretcher!”

“What–” Catching sight of the dark bundle across his shoulders, she led him to a free chair. She released a few latches and lifted, straightening the chair until it locked into a vertical platform. “What the hell happened?”

He strapped Ryath in, panting and grimacing as he eased the restraints over her burned hands. “Dunno…one minute, someone cranked the pain meter on us to about a zillion–” He gulped down a mouthful of air. “–then it all stopped. And Ryath was down.” The buckle on the restraints clacked in his hands. “Okay, hit it!”

Morgan slapped the hatch control and bolted for the cockpit.. “You heard him! Maximum burn, back to the ship!”

“Hey, kids,” Darquin panted, rapidly locking one safety harness after another. “Ever been in space before?” He repeated it in Abbai, moving fast before they could see the bloodstain over his shoulder blades. “No? Then you’re in for a treat.”

The shuttle lurched upward without warning, nearly knocking Darquin off his feet while he sped through the last few safety buckles. He expertly swerved back on his feet, running after Morgan as the shuttle shot forward and away from the building.

As Darquin joined the other Rangers in the cockpit, Carlacci was calling out his status report. “Throttle up for orbital entry, engines nominal! Damn…someone’s trying to lock on us!”

“Stealth online.” Even over the roar of engines and power systems at full, Morgan’s voice sounded calm and firm. “Do not engage, do not return fire. Just get us out of here.”

“Roger that!” Carlacci didn’t need much convincing.

Morgan kept her eyes on the control boards. “Darquin! How is everyone back there?”

“Strapped in,” Darquin said, “no sign of injuries.”

A shockwave rocked the shuttle. “Sheesh, they’re taking potshots at us!” Carlacci said. “They must real annoyed!”

“That’s nothing compared to the Captain when she hears about this,” Morgan said. “Carlacci, maximum burn! Just don’t flatten us!”

Darquin jumped into an acceleration chair behind Carlacci’s chair. He was fumbling with the safety harness just when a brutal snap of gravity smacked everyone inside the shuttle.


 

Blasting past the dark shapes of clouds, the shuttle crashed through the atmosphere and into the void, gyrating like a mad animal until Carlacci set it right. A hush invaded the craft the moment the atmosphere gave way to stars and darkness. Mumbled expressions of awe from the children in the main compartment wafted into the cockpit.

Morgan took the comm headset from the co-pilot’s control board. “Lartiel to Phoenix. Mission complete. Incoming wounded.”

Carlacci gasped. “Not the kids,” Darquin told him.

“Negative.” Morgan was still conversing with the Phoenix over the headset. “Yes, inform the Abbai authorities. We have a surprise for them. Several, in fact, anxious to see their homes again.” She nodded to herself. “Confirmed, Phoenix. Lartiel out.”

She turned to Carlacci as she put the headset down. “We’re cleared for the secondary shuttle bay. Medics will be there, ready for burn trauma.”

Darquin threw a glance over his shoulder, into the compartment behind them. “At the rate Ryath is going–don’t ask me how–I think they won’t have as much work to put in.”

“Any idea what happens now?” Carlacci said.

“Make sure Ryath and the kids are okay,” Darquin chimed in, “and go over the data. I doubt there’s any point, but I’ll get a few people posted around her. As for Cheys, that syndicate, or the….”

Morgan frowned. “What is it?”

“I heard a word back there. I think it’s in our intelligence reports. Drakh. Those life forms we bumped into. You don’t think–”

“We’ll check our intelligence to date.”

Carlacci and Darquin nodded.

“The rest is simple,” Morgan added. “They all pay.”

As Carlacci nodded and set the shuttle on a docking approach, the Phoenix rolled into their view like a turquoise arrow sailing in the tranquil moments between the bow and its target.


Phoenix–“Trick of the Tail (Part 5)” © 2001 Leslie McBride, Niki Hipwood, Jamie Lawson, Joseph Medina

Babylon 5 TM and © 2001 Warner Bros.