By the time Lennier had abandoned the meditative state and returned to full consciousness, his quarters were deserted, the hatch still open. He found it hard to piece together what had happened, a confused swirl of impressions and sense memories. A sickening reek still lingered in the air, and Lennier was dismayed by the strong feeling of urgency that gripped him. He felt it was imperative to get out of his quarters, get out and do something.
He didn't know what, though.
He decided that if nothing else, he would at least check on Delenn. Lennier took up his denn'bok, tested to make sure it was in proper working order, and departed.
They had climbed up through the manhole covers to Grey Nine, retrieved Garibaldi, and then made their way back down to Grey Six. Sheridan had planned to turn the lights back on, but decided that it was more important to restore station communications first.
On Grey Seven, they found a pile of maintenance personnel who had probably assembled to respond to the alleged hull breach. Nearly twenty bodies, ravaged beyond recognition.
"I don't understand, Delenn," Sheridan said, unable to look away from the carnage.
"It is not possible to understand. You might as well ask them to understand our art, music, culture."
"Let's move. Now." Ivanova already had the next manhole cover open, and they began to descend. He'd seen three PPGs among the bodies, looking as though they'd been discarded. No flash burns along the walls that he could see. How had twenty men and women been so thoroughly surprised and attacked, without even the opportunity to defend themselves? What were they walking into? Sheridan gathered the weapons, then down into the manhole. He felt like he was climbing down into hell.
Grey Six. The corridors the same as every other, the sameness starting to wear at his mind. It seemed like they were running in circles. Ivanova took point, Garibaldi behind, then Delenn, and Sheridan took up the rear. They moved as quietly as possible, only a few hundred meters before they should reach the secondary communications relay. As long as the power supply hadn't been disconnected, he thought they had a good chance of getting at least the links working again. Then he could find out how many friendlies he had out there, try to coordinate some kind of response.
Ivanova stopped at a bend, fist raised. They slowly dropped, up against the wall, and she poked her head around the corner. Turned back, whispered into Garibaldi's ear, who whispered to Delenn, who finally relayed the message to Sheridan.
"A human woman and a Drazi male, side by side. Just in front of the hatch. Staring straight forward, like they're statues. Ten meters of open ground, no cover."
"Weapons?" The question made its way back down the line. Ivanova peeked around again, and down the answer came.
"Not that I can see." Well, at least the odds were in their favor. Sheridan rose, PPG charged and ready. He had to admit, he kind of wanted to see Delenn put her pike into action. Garibaldi was looking a question at him, and Sheridan shrugged: no plan, just run around the corner and start shooting.
As they made the turn, Sheridan was convinced for a long beat that the two figures guarding the communications relay were in fact statues; they didn't move, didn't seem to notice the four people coming toward them at all. Then the two were running their way, rage twisting their features. Ivanova had been wrong; they did have weapons. Hands held out in front of them, teeth bared. Even after they'd both been shot several times, they came, and the woman barreled into Ivanova, knocking her down. Ivanova struggled, her hands on the human's shoulders, trying to keep those clicking teeth away from her throat.
The Drazi made his way toward Sheridan and Garibaldi, an awful keening noise that went on and on coming out of his mouth. Sheridan shot one last time, and then it was on him, his PPG flying out of his hands. He tried to roll as he went down, protect his throat. He could feel claws tearing at the back of his neck, felt skin give way and hot blood run toward his face. Then the weight was gone, and Sheridan hadn't even realized that he wasn't breathing until he sucked in a big lungful of air. He rolled over, scrambling around for his PPG, looking for Ivanova.
Delenn came up past him, denn'bok swinging in a perfect arc, and slammed the human on top of Ivanova right in the temple, knocking her back. Her figure twitched, and Sheridan could see her skull had been cracked open. Garibaldi had a foot on the throat of the Drazi, and shot him between the eyes at point blank range.
The whole thing had taken less than twenty seconds.
Delenn was helping him up, pulling back his collar to examine what felt like huge gashes covering his neck. "You're all right," she said, fingers brushing against his cheek. "Just a few shallow cuts." He gripped her shoulder briefly, and then followed the other two into the secondary relay room.
The Carnifex had come without warning, wrenching the emergency bulkhead up in a matter of seconds. The five so-called guards had fled immediately, running into Medlab, one of them screaming in such complete and utter terror that Franklin felt his blood run cold. With numb fingers he grabbed a scalpel and a bone saw and ran out into the main corridor, hoping it was another person seemingly under some kind of psychic hold even as he knew it was not.
What he saw was something out of a nightmare. Seven feet tall, hunched over, rippling muscles pocked by rotten skin and bulbous tumors. No eyes, the face almost entirely given to a monstrous mouth filled with three rows of razor sharp fangs. Franklin came to a dead stop, staring at the thing at the end of the corridor. It stood, black tongue lolling out of that abyss of a mouth, head turning this way and that. Then it was coming for him, and Franklin saw the shreds of flesh still hanging from its claws.
The scalpel and bone saw clattered to the floor. He couldn't move. He was paralyzed, from the top of his head down to his feet. He felt like he was being swallowed up by something immensely vast. Black wings fluttered at the edges of his vision. The thing lumbered toward him, slowly, almost majestic. And with one dim corner of his mind, Franklin realized his fingers had stolen down into his pocket, the scant weight of the stim in the palm of his hand.
With shaking fingers, he pulled the stim out of his pocket. The Carnifex was close, its tongue flicking out like a snake's. Franklin managed to raise the stim syringe in starts and stops, the shake getting worse and worse; it felt like he was trying to lift his hand against an enormous weight. He could feel the last of his willpower sapping away, his eyes drawn to that gaping maw, black blood ringing each fang. With one final, desperate burst of energy, Franklin stuck the syringe into the side of his own neck.
The cocktail of stimulants immediately flooded into his bloodstream. His vision cleared, became perfect, better than perfect; he could hear the Carnifex's breathing, whistling in and out; he could smell the hundred different aromas, all of them revolting, that surrounded the creature. All in the first second of absolute clarity. The fog lifted, the weight gone. Franklin turned and ran back into Medlab One.
"Leshke! Connect the battery chain to the defibrillator!” The scalpel and bone saw abandoned, Franklin frantically looked around, but no weapons presented themselves. The Carnifex was coming in after him, and he saw the few people who had remained scatter. Only the Brakiri remained, hooking up wires with apparent calm.
Franklin turned. The Carnifex stood just inside the doors, and Franklin could sense a malevolent energy coiling inside the thing, could feel that it was preparing to strike.
“What do you want?” he asked, not knowing where the question came from. The Carnifex stopped, and again Franklin felt that alien intelligence upon him, but this time he was able to shunt it aside, deflect the probing threads whispering calm and quiet and peace before they were able to sink into his mind. “Do you want blood? Because I can give you blood.”
It was definitely listening now, taking one tentative step forward. Franklin felt he could leap forward, throttle the thing to death with his bare hands, the same invincible power he always felt just after dosing himself, but he made himself smile, made himself put his hands out, non-threatening, palms forward.
“We have many different kinds of blood here. Many different races. All the blood you could ever want.” Leshke crept up behind him, the defibrillator paddles in her hands. Franklin took them, the hum of the machine sounding insanely loud in his ears. He approached the Carnifex, keeping his voice as measured and smooth as possible.
“And flesh. We have flesh here. Organs. Rich, meaty organs. And bodies in the morgue, still warm. I’ll make you up a banquet, spread a table, if you want. Anything you want.” Franklin closed the last few feet between them, and even as he brought his hands forward he recoiled from the overpowering stench, had to turn his face away from those glittering teeth.
He could feel the thing trying to get inside his mind again, and suddenly the weight was all around him, and all he wanted was to drop everything and surrender. It would be so easy. All he had to do was let go of the paddles, turn his head to the side, and present his throat. There would be only a moment of pain, inconsequential, really, and then all his troubles would be gone. He could have anything he wanted, anything at all. His offering had been appreciated, but it wasn't enough. He had to give himself, as well.
Franklin was caught, felt like his mind was being torn in two. Just as he felt his fingers' grip on the paddles loosen, felt the honey-warm dark pressing against him once again, he remembered the look in the Minbari woman's eyes. That look of relief, of simple thankfulness. He pressed a defib paddle on either side of the creature’s head, and shouted a single word as loudly as he could, shouted it to himself, feeling all the universe condense down into this single second.
He sent the charge, holding the buttons down, keeping them down, locking his arms against the backlash of the shock. The Carnifex howled, screamed. Franklin could smell burned flesh, acrid smoke. The thing shook, jolts running through that massive, deformed body. Then it dropped, still twitching.
"Leshke, I think you ran more charge into the defibrillator than we needed," Franklin said, and then he was laughing, still holding the paddles. The laughter kept going, like it was coming from someplace outside of him. Distantly, Franklin felt Leshke come up to him, grab onto his arms and force them down. She pulled back his fingers and yanked the paddles away. She brought his head down to her shoulder, rubbing his back, and Franklin didn’t even know that he was sobbing.
Delenn's quarters had been empty, her hatch open, hanging loosely from the top. Lennier tried to force down the panic that had welled up inside him, but after he came across this third torn and ruined body, he found it more and more difficult.
What if something had found her? Whatever it was that had entered the station, that had broken into his quarters. What if she had been taken, had been...but he couldn't finish the thought, would not allow himself to even consider the possibility. Her door hadn't been broken - she had left of her own volition. Lennier wondered for half a second why she had not come to his quarters, had not at least knocked on the door, called out to let him know she was all right, let him tell her the same was true for him; but that was a cruel thought. He had no idea in what circumstances she had found herself. He hoped that she was safe, but felt no comfort.
There was no hull breach; of that he was reasonably certain. Which meant that the alarm had been falsely given, that the lights and communications had been intentionally taken offline. The hatches had been sealed, and then something had broken into his quarters - come inside, but done nothing. Why had he been spared? Lennier did not know, and found his ignorance troubling. A story from his childhood occurred to him then, a mean tale he had heard when just barely old enough to attend temple on his own. Dark creatures, sallying forth to main and destroy. Lennier savagely banished the thought from his mind. This was no time for fables.
It would do no good to wander the station. That's all he had been doing; aimless, in shock, he now realized. He headed back to his quarters, meaning to gather what supplies he had, whatever could be turned to the purpose he now sought. He didn't know how much time he needed, how much time was left to him, but while he could, Lennier would free as many as he could.
Sheridan helped Garibaldi, who was patching cables and wires, trying to get the comm relay back online. Mostly, Sheridan just pointed the flashlight in the right place. He glanced over at Ivanova and Delenn, guarding the doors. He wished there were more than just the four of them.
"So where were you, when the alarm went off?" he asked, wanting to reach up and itch his neck. Delenn had washed the wounds thoroughly with a bottle of water they'd found on a desk, a half-eaten breakfast cold on top of it. Sheridan had been struck with the knowledge that someone had been eating that meal, starting their day off with the expectation it would be like any other, and then the unthinkable had happened. Where was that person now? Dead on Grey Seven? Stuck behind a hatch somewhere, in the dark, alone? Delenn must have seen something on his face, and had reassured him that the cuts were shallow, not at all threatening. Remembering that just made him think about the wounds again. Now it was like he could feel something in there, irritating the skin.
"In security," Garibaldi replied, snipping a wire. "Nothing was coming up on the sensors, and I was still cycling through the cams when the lights and power cut out."
"We stopped by security, on our way to C and C. Tapped out a howdy-do on the door. You weren't there."
"I must have already been on my way." It looked like Garibaldi was almost done. He was checking the connections; smooth, methodical.
"But your door was closed."
"After I hooked up the Babcom to the emergency battery and still couldn't get any calls out, I patched the battery power over to the door release there in the instrument panel. Popped the lock, raised the door, closed it behind me. What did you do?"
Sheridan wanted to smack himself. Why hadn't he thought of that? "That's what I did. What you did. That's what I did."
"Yep. Now, Ivanova..." But that was as far as he got, because the women were rejoining them, moving fast but quietly.
"Something coming our way," Ivanova whispered, and then the four of them hurried to the corner, hid under the big desk there. Sheridan hoped the shadows would conceal them; they'd stashed the bodies of the guards in a storage closet down the hall, but there were still flash burns on the walls, blood pools on the floor. Whoever - or whatever - was coming would know that something was up.
The instant the Carnifex entered, Sheridan felt a gibbering panic rise up inside him, something atavistic and horrible. It felt like there was a great thorn in his brain, jabbing into all the most secret parts of his mind, and he wanted to reach up and start tearing at his face, get it out, he had to get it out. The cloying smell of blood and death filled the room; thick, awful. Delenn was pressed up against him, and she reached over and squeezed his hand. He had just enough time to wonder at her presence of mind, that she could think about comforting someone else at this moment, and then she was rising gracefully to her feet, coming out around the desk.
Most of Sheridan wanted to scream at her to get back down, wanted to jump up and grab her and drag her under the desk, but there was a tiny part of him, down deep, the part that was screaming even now, that rejoiced that she had shown herself. Now the thing would take her, and he would be safe.
"You don't belong here. You should leave," Delenn said, her clear voice ringing like a bell. Sheridan told himself to stand, told himself to grab his PPG and start shooting, told himself to do anything, but he could not force himself to move. God, Delenn. That thing was going to kill her, and he couldn't even fucking move.
The Carnifex answered her with a dreadful sound, a shuddering growl that grew and grew, and Sheridan realized that it was laughing. Then there was a whispering sound, the sound he had heard as she had extended her denn'bok in the ducts, and the growl turned into a pained screech. The volume of the wail continued to climb, and Sheridan clapped his hands over his ears. Then there was a crash, a sound of something incredibly heavy slamming into the floor.
Silence, for a beat, and Sheridan felt his senses returning, felt the panic recede. Then he heard another sound, and he couldn't place it at first. He stood, and first he saw the Carnifex on the ground, Delenn's pike still sticking out of its head. Then he saw Delenn, and realized the sounds were her desperate gasps for breath. There was a note of hysteria in them, and when he saw her start shaking, he ran for her. Grabbed her, crushed his mouth against hers. He wanted to throw her down on the floor and fuck her senseless; he wanted to shake her as hard as he could. He settled for wrapping his arms around her, squeezing her tight.
"What did you do? What did you do, Delenn? What were you thinking?" She was still shaking in his arms, her hands grabbing at him.
"It was going to take our minds," she gasped out. "It would have turned us into slaves, like the two in the hall. It would have eaten us. I had to kill it quickly. I had to kill it!" He kissed her again, kissed her forehead, kissed the tears off her cheeks. Buried his face in her neck, breathed her in, thinking he'd never smelled anything sweeter in his life; the memory of shampoo in her hair, the musky scent of her sweat.
Ivanova's hands on his back, and she was saying something, urgency in her voice, but Sheridan shrugged her off. Delenn was grabbing the hair on the back of his head; she'd opened up the wounds on his neck again, and he could feel a trickle of blood under his collar. He couldn't get her close enough, no matter how hard he squeezed.
Then Garibaldi put his mouth right next to Sheridan's ear, yelling. "The links are online, John! John, you have to let her go." He finally did, feeling shaky himself as the wave of adrenaline and emotion died down. He kept one arm around her waist, raised his link to his mouth. Took a deep breath, got himself under control.
"Attention. This is Captain John Sheridan. There has been no hull breach, repeat, no hull breach. Babylon 5 has been boarded by a hostile party. If you are trapped inside quarters, patch the emergency power in your Babcom unit to the hatch controls in the instrument panel. Rally to emergency points alpha. Bring all the weapons you can."
Zack Allan was inside his closet, hiding under a blanket. If anyone had ever told him such an event would one day come about, he would have laughed in their face, told the story about the time he was six and his dad had pretended to be a ghost, and Zack had just grabbed his Little League bat and busted him one over the head. But after he had heard someone slaughtered in the hallway just outside his quarters, the most horrendous screams imaginable, worse than any shocker vid...Zack felt no shame whatsoever. He didn't think his closet would be much protection, the blanket even less, but it still felt like there was something out there, and he didn't want to be scrambling for cover if it decided to come for him.
Then his link came on, the abrupt hum jolting through the silence. The Captain's voice came out, and Zack was so glad to hear him that he nearly wept. A quick explanation of how to get out - it figured. The fact that Sheridan had worked that out and Zack hadn't was probably as good an explanation as any as to why one was a captain and running a space station, and the other worked security. They couldn't all be heroes. Rally to emergency points alpha. For Zack, that meant the main corridor, Green One. Zack counted to three and threw off the blanket, screwed his eyes shut and remembered that Little League bat - he'd hit a triple with it, the next year, sending home the tying run and they'd ended up winning that game, and how his dad had cheered - and then he opened the closet door.
He had a screwdriver somewhere, he thought. It would take him awhile to find it, longer to figure out how to get his doors open, but then he'd grab his weapons and hightail it down to Green One.
Zack was going to help win this station back.
"I won't go in blind. First thing first, we set up recon patrols. We need to know how many we're dealing with, where they're located. We're going to have to rely on sneak attacks, blitzes; we can't give those things enough time to get in our heads, so we have to know exactly where we're headed before we go in." They were back in the ducts, between two vents, up on Grey Twelve.
After the links had come back online, Sheridan had repeated his message twice while Garibaldi and Ivanova dragged desks and equipment in front of the comm relay, hoping it would provide at least some impediment should the enemy come back and try to sabotage their work. Then they ran down to the storage room they'd stowed the dead guards in, found a welder, and welded the doors shut.
"We have to move, we have to move!" Ivanova kept shouting, and they finally abandoned Grey Six, up into the manholes, up the ladders, climbing, climbing. Each floor they had to open the manhole cover blind, hope that section of the corridor was empty, that there weren't more of those mindless guards waiting nearby. Or worse.
Now they were holed up again. Reports had started coming in, glad voices on the link: Corwin was in C and C, and thought he had almost hooked back up with Stellarcom; Zack had just gotten out of his quarters, was on his way down to Green Sector; Menendez and fifteen pilots had already made their way out of the ready room and were on their way to the small arms locker on Blue Five when Sheridan's call had gone through. And Franklin had killed one of those things as well, was even now performing an autopsy, trying to learn what their weaknesses were, how they could best hit them.
Sheridan had briefly thought about calling for comm silence; he didn't know if the enemy was listening in, if they would try to intercept, but it was too good to hear everyone's voices, and he thought that the psychological advantage of everyone being back in contact with the team was more important than any tactical disadvantage. He’d thought briefly, once, about whose voices he hadn’t heard call in yet, wondered how many he had lost, but he pushed the thought aside; he couldn’t worry about it now.
“So where do you suggest we go first?” Garibaldi asked.
“We could try going back down to Grey Eight, get the lights back on.”
“Not worth the risk,” Ivanova immediately said, looking through what she’d pilfered from the storage room: the welder, some kind of heavy chemical cleaner, a blow torch. Seven PPGs between the three of them, five pocket knives, and Delenn’s denn’bok. It wasn’t a bad arsenal, but Sheridan would give anything for a grenade or two. “We should get out of Grey Sector. I don’t think it’s a coincidence one of them came for us after we’d killed its little pets. If they’re not already, these decks’ll be swarming with the things soon enough.”
“Delenn? What do you think?” He hadn’t been able to keep his hands off her; now he had one resting on her back, between her shoulder blades. After Sheridan had got the message out on the link, she had retrieved her pike, washed the end off, and had seemed to retreat inside herself a little, watching the others rush around, trying to seal things up and move. He hoped she was okay, but now was not the time to have a talk.
“I don’t know, John.” She sounded tired, wore out. He rubbed her back a little, wished he could do something more. Then she said, “We could continue to seek out their servants. Kill them, hope their masters come to investigate.”
“Guerilla warfare,” Garibaldi murmured, and Sheridan nodded in the dark. He’d give that order to Menendez and the pilots; maybe the Carnifex would catch on eventually, but they could try to whittle them down in the meantime.
“Susan’s right; we need to move. I don’t think there’s anything in Green or Blue Sectors for us to do right now. Let’s get down to Brown Sector. We can try to access the secondary power grid there. And they must have gone there first, to set the auto warning up if nothing else. If that’s where they went first, that’s probably where their forces are still concentrated.”
A beat in the silence, as they gathered their strength. Then it was down the ducts again, crawling the length of Babylon 5.
Lennier had worked out a good system, and now he had two others helping him. They took their access cards, wrapped them in some thin human metal. Jammed them into the key card slots on the call boxes, then used a rod to pry off the call buttons. It was a matter of some luck, finding just the right angle for the rod, slipping it down into the call box mechanism and poking around, but once the connection was made - click. The hatch would unseal, and a grateful Minbari or Drazi or Gaim would come out, and join the others with Mr. Allan on Green One.
Lennier would have to remember to inform Mr. Garibaldi of this technique after all of this had been resolved. It definitely posed a threat to station security.
He came around a turn, sighed a little inside. It wasn’t that he had been putting off opening this particular set of rooms; he just hadn’t made opening them a priority. But now it was time, and Lennier set to work as efficiently as he had for the last several standard hours. Less than five minutes later...click.
Lennier waited patiently, and it wasn’t long at all before he heard those familiar tones, yelling out from inside the Ambassador’s quarters. And despite himself, Lennier found himself smiling, found that he was actually glad to hear him.
“Finally! I have certainly been waiting long enough. I had a meeting today, you know; a meeting with a beautiful woman. I suppose you think seeing you will make up for it, hmm? Vir, hurry! I can’t wait for you forever!”
V. Fighting Back