Two Riders Were Approaching

Characters: Tomás Darquin, Terry Hale

Ambassador Kalika’s face, noseless and mango-colored with a dorsal fin down her head like many of her kind, appeared in the doorway of the private office. Her dark eyes watched the room closely until two human Rangers dropped gently into sight as if to roost. Kalika soared into the room, the folds of her flowing gown rolling around her like a mist of magenta and heliotrope. The door gently swayed shut in her wake.

The red-haired woman stepped forward. “Ambassador Kalika? Terry Hale, captain of the Ranger Ship Phoenix.”

“And you?” Her voice was cold.

The dark-haired male glanced at his superior, then addressed Kalika. “Tomás Darquin, ma’am. Security Chief on the Phoenix.”

“You did not trust me?” she said to Hale. It had a dark biting tone.

“On the contrary,” Hale said quickly, “I don’t know who else I can trust. You’re the appointed ambassador for Babylon 5 and you’ve worked with the other races many times. Entil’zha Delenn gave us specific instructions to contact you whenever we entered your star system.”

Kalika nodded, weary. “High-level members of the Matriarchate were informed, including myself. But no one was expecting the equivalent of a Minbari battle cruiser.”

“But that military capability is in your people’s hands now, Ambassador. The Interstellar Alliance thought that our presence would help stabilize your situation, calm things down.”

“A few within the Marti feel as you do, and they continue to argue in favor of assistance from the Alliance even now. But our people feel betrayed,” she said with bitterness, “by those who they considered friends, colleagues, and allies. Feeding on our world as if we were carrion. And we’ve had to rebuild despite their help!”

“Does that mean you’re going to turn us away now?” Darquin said.

Hale glanced at him, on the verge of stopping him. While their mission didn’t pivot on the ambassador’s goodwill, continued hostility could only bring more obstacles. But his question had frozen Kalika’s rage in its tracks, forcing all memories of the past aside, demanding a choice between futures even in the quiet restraint in which he spoke. Terry gave an authoritative glare for the ambassador’s benefit, followed by a conspiratorial grin to Darquin, as Kalika looked aside in thought.

Captain Hale approached her as if crossing a minefield, then offered her hand. “I know this isn’t your custom, but in early human history, our ancestors greeted each other this way… to prove they had no weapons.”

Reluctantly, like a wary child, Kalika clasped her hand. “I am familiar with it.” She wore a slight smile, weak but sincere.

“Excuse me.” Darquin raised a hand to his ear and moved away from the others, speaking softly into the comlink on the back of his left hand. He instantly returned to Captain Hale’s side. “Sir, Phoenix is back from Abbai 8. All fighters aboard, Storm escort on standby.”

Hale nodded. “That’s our cue to leave, Ambassador.”

“Very well. I shall speak those in the Matriarchate who will listen. We will contact you again before long.”

Hale and Darquin waited for the ambassador to leave before forging out on their own, back to the forest wetlands near the embassy, silent until they reached their hidden Thunderbolt. With a coded command from their links, the fighter’s Blacklight shimmered into their sight. Captain Hale climbed into the rear co-pilot’s chair in the cockpit, Darquin into the pilot’s seat, then launched into the sky with one massive rocket blast.

As the stars peeked out from behind the atmosphere, Hale spoke into her space helmet’s comlink. “You got a little reckless planetside, Darquin.”

“Yeah,” he said with resignation. “I, uh…. I know the Abbai have been through hell ‘n’ everything–”

“But it’s hard to be sympathetic when you’re getting your head bitten off.”

“Exactly.”

Terry laughed gently to herself. “I admit, I felt the same way. But she said her people were betrayed by allies. And she’s probably never dealt with any Rangers before. They’re vulnerable and what’s worse, everyone knows it. That would get anyone paranoid after a while. And the Abbai have been living like this for almost a year now. But it wasn’t going to get any better until we cut through all that–”

“Distrust?”

She held back an outright guffaw. “That too. But we’ll have to expect that kind of reaction at least for some Abbai and deal with it constructively. Or else the mission isn’t going to work.”

A new voice came over the comlink. “Phoenix to Storm Six, do you copy?”

“Right here, Phoenix,” Hale answered.

“Captain, on our way back, our long-range sensors picked up several capital ships on their way into the Abbai system.”

“Any IDs?”

“It looks like every other member of the Alliance has sent a ship to represent their planets. A Vree heavy cruiser, a Drazi Sunhawk, a Llort gunboat, you name it. Most of them heading this way.”

Hale sighed, too full of thought and fatigue to respond to new data until a few seconds had passed. “How much time do we have?”

“Twelve minutes, if they use the same jumppoint.”

“Call for battlestations and stand by. Make sure our fighters are ready for anything, rotate pilots if you have to. We’re coming in ASAP. Storm Six out.”

Without prompting, Darquin fired the Thunderbolt’s thrusters and took a more aggressive angle for the Phoenix’s fighter bays. “So much for a quiet sail back to the barn.”

“We can’t have everything we want,” Hale muttered. “And I think we just volunteered to tell the whole Alliance to their faces.”


© 2000 Joe R. Medina. All rights reserved.