When the click finally came, barely audible through the bulkheads, Ivanova laid her head against the bundle of wires and sent thanks up to God. Almost two hours wriggling through the tiny space between the walls, doing her best to see by the dim light of the Babcom. Almost two hours trying to work out the connection to the hatch, trying to figure out the manual release.
There was one brief moment of panic, when Ivanova started backing up, and her shoulders got caught between one side of the wall and the metal box housing the circuitry for her quarters. She stopped, breathed, took the panic bubbling up and shoved it back down. You are not going to get stuck between the walls and die. This is not how Susan Ivanova will meet her end. She crawled forward a few inches, then backed up again, rotating her shoulders as she did so, and managed to squeeze through with a hairsbreadth to spare.
One last shimmy, twisting at the waist, and she was out. Ivanova stretched out on her back, breathed in fresh air, let the sweat evaporate off her face. Then she grabbed her spare PPG, tucked her tool kit back into her jacket, all three pocket knives - including the one that had belonged to her brother, that she had never used. One knife in each pocket, the third in a shoe. What else might she need? She couldn’t think of a thing, though she was sure there was something obvious she was missing.
Ivanova got ready to leave, unable to shake the feeling she was walking into a firefight. She’d had plenty of time to think while trying to get her hatch opened, and she couldn’t help but feel that something was behind what systems had failed, and which ones still functioned. It couldn’t just be random chance. Everyone had just enough to time to get into their quarters or another space that had a secure hatch; then the lights and comm went out, and the hatches sealed.
It was though everyone had been sorted away, then kept for later. Ivanova didn’t like the way the hairs on the back of her neck stood up at the thought.
She pushed her door up just enough to slide underneath, peeked up and down the corridor. Deserted, lit by the dim emergency panels set every few meters. No sign of a hull breach. It was unbearably creepy, and Ivanova held her PPG out in front of her, headed toward Command and Control. It was as good a place as any to start.
Sheridan finally got the last screw to loosen, and untwisted the rest of it with his fingers. Delenn had finished removing the two screws on her side of the access panel at least five minutes ago, and had thankfully retreated into her bedroom, didn’t sit and watch him continue to struggle. He was still a tiny bit ticked that she had managed to beat him.
Sheridan pulled the panel off, set it aside. Stuck his head in and looked around. His eyes had adjusted a long time ago to the candlelight that illuminated Delenn’s quarters, but there wasn’t enough to see by between the walls. He stood, retrieved a candle, and brought it back.
“I see you finally finished,” Delenn said, coming up behind him.
“Now don’t be a sore winner.” Goddamn, but this space was small. He could barely squeeze his shoulders in, just managed to twist enough to look around, toward the door. The release and lock mechanism had to be on the other side of this big metal box, close to the hatch. Of course. "Okay, hold this." He handed Delenn the candle, and then it was five interminable minutes trying to wedge himself in at a right angle. He finally managed it, only to find himself completely blocked by the metal box. If he ripped off one of his arms, he might be able to squeeze through.
"Son of a bitch!" Sheridan pulled himself back out, claustrophobia mounting, and finally collapsed on the floor. At some point during this process, Delenn had wet a cloth, and she laid it on his forehead. "Thank you," he said distantly, worrying about what the hell he was going to do now. Rested a minute, then sat up.
"Now you hold this." Delenn handed him the candle, and before he could even draw in a breath to protest, she slithered into the hole in the wall, turning and making her way easily to the right.
"Pass me the candle," she said, and he did. A few moments, then: "All right. There is a bundle of wires here, running up alongside the door. I can see some kind of apparatus near the top. That must be the system that opens and closes the door?"
"So what do I do?" Good question. Sheridan didn't have the foggiest idea how the hatch mechanism worked; his plan had been to fiddle with shit until something happened.
"Um, are the wires different colors?"
"Yes," she said. "One blue, two green, one red, two yellow, one black. No, two black." Eight different wires, five categories. Lock, automatic sensor, power, magnetic seal, and the connection to the call box and card key slot outside. Which two would need only one wire?
"Cut the red and the blue." He handed her his pocket knife, waited.
"All right." He didn't expect that anything immediately apparent would happen, but hoped the lock had been disconnected. The other wire was probably the auto sensor. That left the call box, power, and the mag seal. The mag seal was what they wanted.
"Okay, Delenn? Cut one each of the other three colors. One yellow, one green, one black. Then strip the wires back about half an inch."
"So that the wire is exposed?"
"Yeah." Sheridan sat back and waited. He had no idea whether or not this would work. It was possible that it would turn out to screw up the hatch so much they'd be stuck here for the duration of what was going on, and need to be cut out.
"The wires are exposed." He had a feeling that the yellow was the call box. He didn't know why, but he'd learned a long time ago to trust his instincts.
"Wrap the green and the black wires together." Send some juice into the mag seal circuit, see what happened.
Sheridan stood, checked out the hatch. Damn, and the first try, too. He wondered if Susan had managed to figure it out, as well. If not, he would crow about it for weeks. He helped Delenn out, and she was looking at him oddly.
"What?" he asked, and he dusted her off a bit as they stood.
"You're enjoying yourself." And Sheridan realized that he did, in fact, have a big ol' smile on his face.
"Well, sure. It was fun. Like a puzzle." He got a different look now, one of his favorite looks, the one that said that she found him a little strange and a little funny, but she'd keep him anyway. "Okay," he said. "Now I can get out, but I don't like leaving you in a room that doesn't lock. I suppose if you heard something coming, you could shimmy between the walls again, pull the access panel up against the hole. At least until you were sure it was a friendly."
"You want me to hide between the walls, while you go out and run around by yourself?" He didn't like the tone of her voice, the tone that said pretty soon it wouldn't matter what he said, she was going to tell him how it was going to be and that would be that. Sheridan pulled out his PPG, checked the charge.
"I won't be alone."
"Indeed." Delenn went back into her bedroom then, and returned a few moments later holding what looked like an oversized napkin ring. "Let's go."
"Delenn," he protested, "I have no idea what's going on out there."
"All the more reason I should be with you."
"I don't want you to get hurt."
"Then don't do anything ill-advised that would require me to rescue you." With that she stepped around him and lifted the door. Sheridan ducked under, held it for her, and the two of them set out.
Takir had watched in disbelief as the casino cleared out when the hull breach alarm sounded. They were right on one of the central corridors. There were probably a dozen hatches between the casino and the hull. But everyone was running like a fire had just broken out. Takir moved with the crowd, then ducked under one of the roulette tables, waited - it wasn't long before he was the only one left.
And then he had made a little money.
Now Takir was making one last circuit of the place, forty thousand credits stuffed in his pockets and in the briefcase he'd found on the floor - real Earth leather, probably worth four or five thousand credits alone. Not a soul to be seen the whole time; no gamblers and no station personnel, and certainly no security. Even the lights going out hadn't dampened his spirits; the emergency lights had come on soon afterward, and that was more than enough light to see by. The whole thing was like a dream come true.
Takir made his way to the access stair, not even bothering with the transport tube; if the lights were out, then it probably wasn't working. He kept reaching down with his free hand to pat the money in his pocket, confirm that it was still there.
Someone was coming up the stairs behind him. Another enterprising soul? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Takir didn't feel like explaining himself, and he certainly didn't feel like sharing. He started to jog up the stairs, and just as he was thinking that he'd been hearing things, that no one was following him at all, it came at him from behind, claws and teeth tearing.
Takir never even saw what it was.
Ivanova didn't like it. She didn't like any of it. She hadn't passed a single person since leaving her quarters, and even though she knew her way around Babylon 5 like the back of her hand, something about the endless empty corridors made her feel like she was lost, or caught in some kind of dream.
C and C had been locked up tight as a drum. Sheridan had been heading to a Council meeting so she didn't even bother with his office. Now she was making her way to security, hoping that she could find Garibaldi. Someone had to have stayed out in the open. The idea that all two hundred and fifty thousand people on board this station had actually followed directions was too absurd to be believed.
Ivanova smelled the blood before she saw it. Turning around a bend in the corridor, there was an opened hatch fifty meters away from her. The call box beside it had been destroyed, a jumble of broken metal and plastic hanging loosely by one wire. The door itself was crumpled at the bottom. Ivanova found herself looking at these things rather than the puddle of blood and flesh in the middle of the corridor that at one point had been a person.
She gingerly approached. It was hard to tell by the red light of the emergency panels, but she thought she could make out an EarthForce uniform. The arms and legs were gone - ripped, not cut off. The face was mutilated beyond recognition. Based on the size and shape of the torso, Ivanova thought it was a woman.
She looked back at the door. The crumples in the metal formed an upside-down V at the bottom. It looked as though something had been put between the door and the floor, and levered it up by force. Ivanova slipped underneath, into the dark quarters. There was just enough light from the hall to find a t-shirt on the back of the couch. She grabbed it, came back out, and gently laid it on top of the woman's ruined face.
It hadn't occurred to Sheridan that the transport tubes wouldn't be working, either. Thankfully the closest one wasn't that far from Delenn's quarters, but they still had to backtrack to the nearest access stair, and Sheridan begrudged every second they had to spend out in the corridors.
There was an almost palpable sense of dread in the air, and walking these empty halls, lit only by bloody red light, was unnerving. He was glad of Delenn's presence beside him, kept glancing over at her. She might have seemed as calm as ever to an outside observer, but Sheridan could see that she was worried, a little scared. She was clutching that napkin holder thing; he wondered if it was some kind of religious thing, a charm or something.
They made it to the stair, and inside a smaller space, no long halls stretching behind and ahead, Sheridan felt secure enough to sit and take a short break. He knew it was all in his head, but it felt like there just wasn't enough air.
"There's no hull breach, is there?" Sheridan just grunted. "What do you think is causing this?" she asked, sitting very close.
"I'm not thinking about it. I just want to get up to C and C. That's as far as I'm thinking."
"I'm worried about Lennier." Sheridan was sure that was true, but was also sure that Lennier, wherever he was right now, was far more worried about her.
"I'm sure he's fine." Sheridan stood, started up the steps. They'd have five floors to go, then down to C and C; it would be a good forty-five minutes before they got there. "Probably just meditating." They climbed the stairs in silence for awhile, and he could hear himself breathing a little harder. Too much sitting behind a desk lately. Delenn, of course, betrayed no sign of exertion at all.
They found the body on the third floor up.
"In Valen's name," she whispered, backing up against the wall. Sheridan made himself come close, lean down to look. It had been...shredded. There was no other word for it. He looked like he'd taken a swim in an industrial meat grinder. A Drazi, Sheridan thought, and a well-off one as well, if the credits scattered on the floor around him were any indication.
"Someone did this," he said, standing and going to Delenn.
"No, not someone. Something." He looked at her then. He had seen her after they opened the Markab's death chamber, he had seen her after her battle with the Inquisitor, but he had never seen her like this. She looked absolutely terrified, and it was that, and not the experiences of the morning, or even the body he had just examined, that made Sheridan start to become afraid for the first time.
"We need to get to C and C," Delenn said, grabbing his hand and pulling him up the next flight of stairs.
"Do you know what did that, Delenn?"
"We need to get somewhere safe. Hurry."
They'd already lost two patients. One more was critical, and unless the power and lights came back on within the next hour, they'd lose her, too. They’d probably lose her anyway, at this point. There were a few machines that ran on battery power, but most were hooked up to station power, and none of those were operational. The dim glow from the displays of the battery-powered machines, the emergency panels here and there, and Dr. Hobbs's book light that she had stuck in her front pocket facing out - that's all the light they had. It was enough to get by, especially now that everyone's eyes had adjusted, but the patients were scared, agitated, and each minute it just got worse.
Franklin was calm. It almost felt like he was standing outside himself, watching himself move around Medlab, see to one patient after another, continue to check the lights, the comm system, the computers, the doors. He didn't have enough time to worry; he didn't have enough energy to be afraid.
Check on Na'Thar. See if we have any more Narn plasma. Distribute pain medication to the infirmary. The IV drip on the Drazi patient needs to be changed. Try to make a call to C and C. Change the bandage on Dr. Williams. Try to make a call on the link. Make sure Diana is comfortable. Prepare a dose of morphine, just in case. Try and see if the doors will open. Check how much water we have left.
So it was that when the woman first entered Medlab, the doors sliding closed behind her, Franklin hardly blinked at first. She stood there, just inside, staring at him.
"Are you all right? Do you need medical assistance?" No response. Then Franklin gasped, understanding the implication of her sudden appearance. "How did you get the bulkhead to raise?" But even before Franklin finished asking the question, he got a good look at the Minbari woman's eyes. They were vacant, staring at him but also through him, at some infinite point in the distance. Franklin noticed that her robes were old, threadbare; her bone crest was carved into sharp, jagged peaks.
"Can I help you?" And then she smiled at him. A smile that grew and grew, and Franklin felt the spit dry up in his mouth. It wasn't a smile, it wasn't a grin - it was a rictus, some kind of grotesque parody of a smile. The woman walked toward him, in slow, jerky steps. The grin never faded, her eyes still staring at him and yet through him. Franklin took a step back, then another, but then he was against the wall and still she advanced, inexorable.
Franklin suddenly realized that the woman wasn’t really a woman. That whatever stood in front of him was just a shell. That when he looked into those eyes, he was looking at something old, unfathomably old.
She had something in her hand that she held out to him. Grinning, grinning. Out of the corner of his eye, Franklin saw Hobbs walk up, staring at the two of them. He lifted one hand just enough to tell her to stop, and she did. Her hand stole out to the instrument tray nearby, and then Franklin wasn’t looking her way anymore, because the woman was only a meter away, and the thing in her hand was just in front of his face.
Franklin took it. He knew what it was made from the instant he held it in his hands, but he looked at it anyway. A piece of leather, with five letters carved into it. Not just leather, though. This had come from the skin of an arm, human, maybe, or Centauri. Franklin read the letters again; he knew he would see this word, carved into once living flesh, for the rest of his life.
The thing that had once been a woman laughed then, a chuff of air that reeked of rotten flesh. It held out its hand, and Franklin tried to hand back the piece of leather, but it didn’t take it. Just held its hand out, waiting.
It wanted blood.
Franklin put his hand in his pocket, got a good grip on the syringe there. The dose of morphine he’d prepared for Diana. Then he nodded, nice and slow. “Sure, we can get you some blood. Any preference as to species?”
The thing’s smile died then, and Franklin knew real fear. If it had been looking through him earlier, now it was staring down into the very depths of his soul.
“Why don’t you come to the back with us?” Hobbs asked, and Franklin wanted to yell at her to run away, run and hide, hope this thing didn’t turn its basilisk glare her way. Then he got a look at her face, saw that it was deathly pale, and saw what she was holding almost hidden in the folds of her scrubs.
“Yeah, come on back,” he said, fighting against the shake in his voice. “You can pick out what blood you want.” The thing looked back and forth between them, and Franklin gestured for it to walk ahead of him. He managed a watery smile himself, and it seemed that did the trick, because it turned, walked toward Hobbs.
Franklin knew he’d have one shot. He slid the syringe out as steadily as he could, then came up behind the thing and jabbed it into its neck. It howled, an unearthly sound, and Franklin grabbed it, pinned its arms to its body. For a moment he didn’t think he’d be able to hold on - it bucked and shook, and it was so strong - but then the morphine hit the bloodstream. Franklin took one hand and grabbed its bone crest, pulled the thing’s head back, and exposed its throat.
“Lillian, now!” There was only an instant of hesitation, and then Hobbs came forward with her scalpel, sliced. Franklin felt a gush of blood run down the creature, cover his hand. A spray of it hit Hobbs in the face, and she cried out, recoiled. Franklin kept holding onto the thing until it finally became limp. He put it on the floor, and watched it die. Just before the end, those eyes focused on him, on his own eyes, and he saw a brief glimpse of something then. He thought it looked like gratitude, and relief. She whispered a word, and then her eyes dimmed.
Franklin sat down, right on the floor. Ignored the doctors, nurses, and patients who came over to see what was going on. The word the woman had said repeated over and over again in his head, and he wondered what it meant. He was afraid he’d learn before this was all over.
III. Campfire Tales