WHERE did it all go WRONG

Characters: Tomás Darquin

Tomas Darquin felt self-conscious at first, wearing his Anla’shok uniform aboard an Earthforce vessel, until Major Ryan greeted him with a wide grin on his round face, shaking Darquin’s hand as they crossed the hangar of the Alexander.

“Permission to come aboard, Major–”

“Granted, Tommy–nice to see you!”

Darquin laughed out loud, stopping long enough to call out, “Sir, you have no idea how ironic that sounds!”

He ducked his head to avoid the trails of welding sparks as he and Major Ryan wandered through the cloudbanks of technicians and the rivers of foot traffic led them into the corridor, running deeper into the rest of the ship. Stepping onto the dull grey deckplates, hearing the tell-tale clatter underfoot struck him with a pang of nostalgia.

He raised his voice over the shrill crackle of rampant welding crews. “Thanks for the lift!”

“No problem! We’ll be here for a while, and we already have scheduled runs going back and forth between us and all the White Stars in orbit.”

“What’s going on, upgrades?”

“Yeah, with some repairs left to go,” Major Ryan called over his shoulder. “Since we’re back in the fold, we’re getting new sensor packages, power systems, the works. We’ll be up to snuff with the rest of the fleet. How about you, Tom?”

“Trying to make my way back to White Star 21. Then we’ll be going back to Minbar eventually for our permanent assignment.”

“What’s your position going to be? Squadron leader?”

“Chief of Security.”

Major Ryan did a double-take. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope, I got a spiffy office that’s wired and everything.”

“You?” Ryan snickered. “You’ve come a long way from the stockade.”

Darquin threw an exaggerated scowl at his old CO and finally couldn’t resist laughing with him. “Definitely a long way from the Deucalion.”

“Yeah, both of us.” Major Ryan gave him a hearty pat on the back. “You know, the new gear suits you.” He tapped his chest like a phantom reflection, pointing out the emerald-like Isil’zha on his companion’s duster.

Darquin glanced down at the dark greys and browns of his Ranger uniform. “A few Minbari might say different.”

He chuckled, but when Major Ryan wasn’t joining in, he followed him into the next available lift, watching the major’s face. Something was up.

As the lift closed and threw them into a controlled high-speed climb, the Major pulled an odd-shaped piece of dark plastic that let out a shrill, dying crescendo Darquin could feel in his molars. “We can talk freely now.” He handed it to Darquin.

“Nice…could’ve used this a few years ago.” Darquin turned it over in his hand, examining it as he felt its ghostly vibration through his palm, like an ant on his skin. “Is someone following you?”

“I’m not sure.” Major Ryan took the device back. “But one thing I learned from General Hague is to take precautions.” He nodded toward it before he put it back in his pocket. “We don’t have much time. A friend of General Hague’s is in trouble on Mars. One of your people.”

“A Ranger?” Darquin leaned closer.

“Katia Santiago, dark hair, about–” He stopped as he saw a glaze of recognition and dismay roll over Darquin’s eyes.

“I served with her,” Darquin whispered. “What the hell’s she doing on–” His mind flashed back to personnel files he’d read months ago. “She has two kids. Psi-corps has ’em holed up on Mars, right?”

“It looks that way. I got word that their escape route might have just backfired on us. But I’ve done everything I can on my own. Short of attracting attention.”

He nodded as he began to understand. “And she’s going after ’em.” He swore under his breath. “I knew she had a head full of steam, but…. Damn it, I should’ve seen this coming.” He leaned against one of the walls forming the lift, cradling his forehead in his hand as he began to think. A rush of rapid-fire thought sent him racing. “Okay, okay, can you give me datalink access, comm access, anything?”

“My office.” Ryan glanced at the readout on the lift controls. “We’re almost there. I’ll leave you there and keep an eye on things from the command deck.”

Darquin raised one hand like a symphony conductor as the doors to Major Ryan’s office groaned shut behind him. The instant he heard the bug-jammer shriek in his hand, he bolted for the computer console. “That’s my cue. Darquin to White Star 21, requesting datalink Security access. Tie into… beacon EFN-117804.”

When intricate Minbari symbols rolled across the computer screen, Darquin quickly began pinching symbols between his fingers and rearranging them like blocks, dragging one into another on the other end of the screen, folding open another to reveal an endless stream of computer code. Several minutes passed before an array of Earth and Minbari computers let him peer into their secrets, eventually dipping into communications logs aboard the Minbari spacedocks.

All Rangers thoroughly hid their tracks even in cyberspace, but except for extremely sensitive information, Minbari computers had few security precautions. Most Minbari used only the file areas for which they were authorized. But between his Anla’shok training and a history of a professional malcontent, it took him only a little longer than usual to uncover data trails. Someone had gone to great lengths to access comnets, to hide the efforts, uncover them, and hide them again. An elaborate game of hide-and-seek had broken out at the periphery of Minbari cyberspace.

He began to recognize prefix codes from the Phoenix, hacking techniques and styles, and how all this reminded him of six months ago, when the Phoenix was sent in during the Minbari civil war–

“Aw hell.” He let himself drop into a chair, crushing his forehead against his palms to blot out the tension headache that was already in full bloom. “All three of ’em… again.

“Computer, leave this message for Captain Terry Hale, double-encrypted for her eyes only. ‘Uh, Cap, something real big just blew up in our face. I think I might be a while….'”

(C) 1999 Joe R. Medina. All rights reserved.


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