Everything was nice and peaceful. Ivanova was lying in a hammock, gently rocking, a fresh breeze cooling the perspiration on her face. She thought about how nice it was that she'd finally picked up some R and R. She'd been working too hard lately.
Then the hammock broke, and she was falling. Thud. The back of her head hit the ground hard, sending a shock wave of pain down her spine. Ivanova opened her eyes - she was in Grey Sector. She had been stabbed. She needed to get to Medlab Three. Every pain reminded her of its presence, friendly waves from her head and her back and most especially from her stomach. Ivanova looked up at the ceiling, trying to figure out what was going on.
Garibaldi was on his knees beside her, looking back the way they'd come. His face was still, calm. She watched as he tugged down the collar of his jacket, exposed his throat. Then she felt them, three of them, coming down the corridor their way. She tried to say something - Garibaldi you idiot do something stop sitting there and do something - but she couldn't get the words out. She couldn't move, either, although she didn't know if it was because of the fear or because she was so weak.
She had told herself earlier, when she'd been stuck momentarily between the walls, that she was not going to meet her end in such a way. Those words flashed through her mind again, and she saw Garibaldi's PPG in its holster, just by her side. She'd only have to raise her hand a little bit to get at it. Ivanova tried to lift it up, but just felt her hand shake beside her, flopping around on the floor like a dead fish. She could smell them now, feel the vibration in the floor beneath her as they approached. That alien smoke filling her mind again, seeking out the hidden corners. It didn't belong. Get out of my mind goddamn it get out get out GET OUT OF MY MIND. Then her hand was flying up, resistance gone. She grabbed the PPG, jerked it out of the holster, then rolled onto her uninjured side. Up on one elbow. Headshots. You can do it, Ivanova. What did Delenn say? Just aim and fire.
Her first two shots went wide. The third clipped the Carnifex in front on the shoulder. Then she had him, right above that huge fucking mouth, and he fell like a building coming down. Before he had even hit the ground, Ivanova let four shots fly into the second monster; one in its gut, two in the chest, then the fourth blowing off the side of its head.
The third kept coming, a bellowing roar louder than anything she'd ever heard, louder than a ship lifting off, louder than an engine core; she had to resist the urge to cover her ears. She aimed. It was only a few meters away. She'd have one shot, maybe two. She squeezed the trigger.
The PPG let out a ghostly little flash that died before it even reached the last Carnifex. Ivanova kept pulling the trigger, shooting over and over, but the charge was dead. She couldn't look away from the monster about to crush her, still coming on, claws extending in anticipation.
The former Drazi was marching Delenn through Brown Sector with one of her arms pulled up high behind her back, almost enough to make her worry that it was going to pull it out of the socket, break it. She kept trying to worm her way free, pulling this way and that, digging her feet in and refusing to walk, but the mind-controlled slave was too strong. It dragged her when she did not walk, and its grip was iron strong. She could not break free.
The last thing Delenn had seen before the doors slammed closed was Ivanova aiming a PPG in her direction. Whether she had been aiming for the Drazi or for Delenn herself didn't matter; either shot would have sufficed. The shot had gone off, but it had missed them both. Now they finally stopped; the Drazi threw Delenn down on the ground, stood over her, grinning down. The Minbari who controlled him collapsed against the opposite wall. Ivanova's shot had hit him in the back of his shoulder, and he gingerly examined the wound now. Delenn watched as he then reached up and pulled out the remains of his eye, ichor dripping down his face. There were other wounds - a bloody hole in his cheek, a deep gash across his jaw. One of his hands was not functioning.
Delenn had expected to have to tamp down at least a tiny shred of pity, looking at the wounded member of her own race in front of her, but she felt nothing but anger, disgust. She found that she hoped he was in awful pain, and the fact she even entertained such a thought made her sick.
“You asked me a question earlier,” the Minbari said, and his voice was the same as ever. It sent chills down her spine. She rubbed her wrist, the one the Drazi had been gripping; it felt itchy, raw. “You asked me how I could betray my own people, how I could allow other Minbari to be murdered.”
“I didn’t realize at the time that you are no longer Minbari. You have become something else. Something evil.”
“Such contempt in your voice, little one. You are no longer Minbari, either.”
“In that you are wrong.”
Two more of the Minbari's servants approached then, two humans who were nothing more than walking skeletons. Starving, clear marks of physical abuse all over their bodies. They came with that same idiot grin, glancing Delenn's way with lascivious eyes. One stepped her way, tongue sliding around its lips, and the sudden horror that filled her made her raise her eyes to the Minbari, ready to beg. But the Minbari only sniffed in mild amusement, raised a hand with that languid ease she remembered from before. The human slaves walked up to him, began to attend to his wounds. Black thread sewing the gashes shut; ugly work. Throughout it all, he never took his eyes away from Delenn.
Then he turned his head suddenly, looking down the corridor, back the way they'd come. He looked surprised, and Delenn strained to hear whatever it was he was listening to. She could hear nothing. The hole in his cheek still left open, the Minbari shooed the humans away, and they ran down the corridor ahead of them, the jerky movements of their emaciated limbs difficult to watch.
“He's left," the Minbari said. "Your Captain. The human woman finally died - a knife wound, very tragic. The other man has been dead for some time now. Skull crushed. How unfortunate, really. The four of you worked so hard to get here. So very brave."
"Why would I need to lie?" Then she felt him, rooting around inside her mind, and Delenn raised her hands to her head, trying to block him out without knowing how, but it was futile. "John. He's come to rescue you before, a brave little soldier. But not this time. You're just one person. There are so many others who are depending on him. He has duties, you know, duties more important than whatever perverted carnal feelings he might have for you."
He laughed at whatever he saw on her face. "Did you think he actually cared for you? Did you think he actually loved you? You're a freak." All of the feelings she'd had after her change - the surprises of her new body, the difficulties in trying to adapt, the angry reactions of her own people, the humans who had taunted her - all of them flooded into her mind in perfect clarity. Delenn found herself moaning, filled with revulsion for what she had become. "Your Sheridan is a noble man. Loyal to his people, his planet. He might occasionally entertain the idea of possessing your body, late at night, during moments of weakness - humans do tend to fetishize the exotic, after all. But no more than that. He isn't coming for you."
A flick of his wrist, and the Drazi had her on her feet again. They followed after the humans, deeper into Brown Sector.
The Drazi had let her go once she stopped struggling. Delenn had finally gotten too tired to try and break free, and even if she had been able to, where would she have gone? Now she walked, the Drazi in front of her, the Minbari behind. She was painfully aware of his presence, just a few paces away. Delenn didn’t have the slightest bit of telepathic ability, but she felt something now, something cold and lonely battering itself against the surface of her mind.
So she talked to herself, safely, just inside her head. A prayer to the universe. The Second Recitation of Diligent Hope. Jokes that Mr. Garibaldi and John had told her. The names of everyone she knew. Things Dukhat had said to her, long ago. Things she wanted to say to John, if she ever had the chance.
They had backtracked. They had been down this corridor before. Delenn wondered at the attempt at subterfuge, why the Minbari was leading her up and down Brown Sector, for no apparent reason. Did he think she did not know her way around the station? Was he trying to confuse her? Or perhaps he was trying to beat her down, break her, make her cry out for release. That, Delenn would never do. She had faced the Inquisitor; she had been tested. She had already passed. She would not fail in this, not after that.
They came to a room, and the Drazi unlocked it. Delenn was pushed inside. The door was closed and locked behind her. At first she thought she was alone, but then she saw two others in the corner, huddled together. A human woman, very young, and a Centauri male, perhaps Londo’s age. They had their arms around each other; their eyes were closed.
“Hello?” Delenn said, thinking that they looked normal, not scary at all, but she no longer trusted her own instincts. She felt her back hit the door behind her, and she couldn’t back up any more. The young woman’s eyes opened, focused on Delenn. Then she burst into tears.
Delenn could only think that the young woman was afraid of her, so she put her hands out, shaking her head. “I’m not going to hurt you. Please, do not be afraid.” The Centauri man stood, looking weary.
“Laetitia is not afraid of you, and neither am I. My name is Corfo.”
“I am Delenn.”
“The Minbari Ambassador. Yes, I know.”
The young woman - Laetitia - stood then, wiping away her tears. She approached Delenn, sniffling, looking painfully young.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” the girl said, anguished. Delenn couldn’t help but take her into her arms, hold her gently for a moment. Laetitia started crying again.
“Why are you sorry?” she asked, so utterly confused that she couldn’t even formulate a guess.
“We saw you coming,” Corfo answered, and she followed his gaze to the monitors in the wall. The water reclamation system. The tanks they had taken so long to try and hide behind as they quietly, carefully made their way across the room. “We watched your group, saw the human woman fall, watched you make it halfway across before the Minbari was in our minds. He saw what we saw. We didn’t know why we’d been brought here until then - he used us to help guard the approach. We had to watch as they attacked you; there was nothing we could do.”
“It was our fault,” Laetitia whispered. “We showed him right where you were.” Delenn released her then, held onto her upper arms. Smiled, as warmly as she could. That she could find two good people in a place like this, after everything that had happened - the universe truly did put them in places where they could learn.
“Do not apologize, and do not feel guilty. Corfo is right. There was nothing you could have done. One could no more blame the fish when the tide pulls it out to sea.” Laetitia seemed to find some comfort in that, and managed a weak little smile.
“Come, please. Sit with us.” Corfo returned to the corner, Laetitia following. Instead, Delenn looked around the inside of the room. It wasn’t very large, but seemed larger since all the furniture had been removed. Nothing to use as a weapon, or to hide behind. The monitors cycled through different views of the water reclamation room, empty now, of course; the light from the monitors the only light in the room. Delenn tried the door.
“There’s no way out,” Corfo said, something in his tone telling her that he felt she was very silly to even try. Delenn knelt, ran her hands along the wall. There, the access panel. That would be her second plan, if the first did not work out. She looked over all the walls - air had to be coming in from somewhere. She found the air vent on the back wall, above where Corfo and Laetitia were sitting. High, near the ceiling, and Delenn had no idea whether or not even she would be able to fit into the duct; it didn’t look very big.
She reached down into her right shoe. She had stowed her eating utensil there, not knowing if she and John would need to loosen other screws once they had left her quarters so long ago, not knowing they would run into Ivanova with her little package of tools. Delenn wished she had it now.
“Corfo, do you think you could help me reach that vent?”
“Surely you don’t mean to climb into the wall?”
“It would not be the first time today.” Delenn slipped off both her shoes, and Corfo got on his hands and knees. She carefully stepped onto his back, Laetitia giving her a hand. “I am not too heavy, I hope?”
“Not at all.”
Delenn started unscrewing the vent cover. There was something she wasn’t thinking of, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She had two screws loosened before she realized that she no longer had her denn’bok with her. Even if she could crawl out of Brown Sector, she would not be able to get out of the ducts unless she crossed paths with someone else out in the corridor, a 'friendly,' as John put it. She would have been willing to try, but it was clear to her now that Corfo would not be able to fit inside, and she would not leave him.
Delenn climbed down. She was preparing to explain when Corfo, standing, said, “You do not have to worry about me. If the two of you can save yourselves, you should.” How did he...?
“You’re telepaths.” Then there were two tiny sunrises, just over the horizon of her mind, shining warm light and promise. She felt a laugh bubble up inside of her, unbidden; suddenly she felt as light as air. They withdrew their greeting, but the warmth inside her remained. She bowed to them both, then held Corfo’s gaze.
“Either we all leave together, or we do not leave.” She went to the access panel, began removing it. The process went very quickly now. Within minutes she had it freed, then climbed between the walls, as she had done what now seemed like ages ago. The light from the monitors wasn’t strong enough to illuminate the narrow space. Delenn found the bundle of wires, but she could not tell one from another.
Then Laetitia’s voice, tight, scared. “Delenn. He knows what you’re doing. He’s coming.”
“I don’t know.”
She could not simply cut all the wires. That would only keep them from being able to open the door entirely. That might buy them some time, but eventually a Carnifex would be brought to wrench the door open by force. She would have to cut the wire that locked the door; she didn’t have to worry about unsealing it, because it did not seem the Minbari had done that to the doors here in Brown Sector. Or, at least, not to this one. Trial and error, then. She would have to hope that she cut the lock wire before she cut both of the ones providing power.
She pulled one wire aside, put it between the tines of the utensil, and pulled with all her might. The utensil wasn’t sharp like a knife, but after three attempts she was able to sever the wire.
“Command the door to open, Laetitia.”
“Open!” Delenn did not hear the door raise up, so she must have cut something else. She tried another one.
“Ambassador.” Corfo’s voice. “He is coming down to this corridor now. He will be here in a matter of minutes.” Delenn closed her eyes, sent up a brief prayer. Took her third wire and cut it.
“Open!” And the door went up, the most lovely sound. She heard the woman’s gasp, and then Corfo was helping her get out. Laetitia was already heading down the corridor. Delenn wasn’t sure how long Corfo would be able to run; he was stout, did not appear to engage in much physical activity. But he ran now, legs pumping steadily up and down, and Delenn struggled a bit to keep up. They were heading back toward Grey Sector. If they could just get there, they could get into the larger ducts, and make their way back to the other end of the station.
A Bloody One, at the end of the corridor. Delenn heard Corfo’s voice inside her mind. We can’t keep going this way.
He’s at the other end of the hallway. He’s coming toward us! Laetitia, and Delenn winced at the panic that leeched out of the words, seemed to infect her. A Carnifex ahead, the Minbari behind. Delenn felt surprise that if she had to choose one, she would choose to meet the Carnifex.
They came up to an intersection, and without hesitation they all turned right in unison, Delenn feeling a gentle nudge in her mind. That would take them toward the central corridors, toward the access stairs. Delenn generally considered herself to be in good physical condition, and she didn’t know if it was a result of the demands of the day or a change in her constitution after her transition, but she was getting tired very quickly. There was a pain in her side, high, just under her lung; her legs ached; her breath tore in and out in sharp gasps. They were running away from Grey Sector now, deeper into Brown Sector. She could only hope that if they climbed up a level or two, they could go back the other way.
But it was too late. The Drazi was just ahead of them, as though it had been waiting. Delenn grabbed Laetitia’s hand, pulled her back. Corfo did not move as quickly. The Drazi leapt upon Corfo, dragging him down to the ground. Delenn watched in horror as it sank its teeth into the Centauri’s throat.
NO NO CORFO NO OH GOD. Delenn couldn’t help it; she staggered, a hand to her head. Laetitia was screaming, the screams broadcasted right into the center of Delenn’s brain. Delenn didn’t know how to get her out, how to block her. Then she wrenched her hand out of the woman’s grasp, and the overwhelming presence in her mind died down to a manageable level. Laetitia had fallen to her knees, keening. Delenn could see Corfo batting at the Drazi, trying to get it off. She jumped onto its back, locked her arms around its throat. She could hear when it pulled its teeth out, an awful sucking sound as the fangs came out of Corfo’s flesh. The Drazi bucked, trying to throw her off, but Delenn wrapped her legs around its middle, grabbed onto her own wrist and pulled her right arm as hard against its windpipe as she could.
The Drazi was on its feet, shaking. It was all she could do to hang on. Then it was running backwards, and she realized too late that it was running her into the wall. She was able to pull her head forward at the last minute, spare her skull. Her back was not so lucky. The metal bulkhead was completely unyielding, and Delenn felt at least one of her ribs break. She didn’t let go, though, and the Drazi fell forward onto its knees, and after another minute it fell prone on the floor. Its hands came up to weakly bat at her arm, its claws scraping and tearing the sleeve of her dress but not quite breaking skin. Then it stilled. Delenn kept the pressure on its throat, trying to breathe herself, each inhale provoking a needle-sharp pain. She finally made herself release her wrist, pull back her arm. The muscles in both arms spasmed, and it was difficult to push herself upright.
The sound of Laetitia’s crying filtered through the roar of her own blood pumping. Delenn stood, agony on the left side of her body. She went to the woman, sitting with Corfo’s head in her lap. He was still alive, but he was covered in blood; it pooled on the ground beneath him. It looked as though his throat had been ripped out.
Delenn unsnapped her dress, tearing at the joins, feeling most of them break. She ripped along the shoulder seam, folded the fabric and pressed it against the wound. It was futile, and she knew it, but she had to try. The fabric soaked through in seconds, and she tore another big piece, put it right on top. Then she just wadded up what was left of the dress and pressed it on top of the rest. Her hands were so sticky with blood she wasn't sure if the top makeshift bandage was already sodden or not. The Centauri’s mouth opened just slightly, but no sound came out. His eyes rolled upward, toward the human.
“No, Corfo. We’re not leaving you,” Laetitia wailed, her tears falling on his face. Delenn watched as the life left him, watched his eyes dim and finally fall dark.
“Laetitia, we have to go.” She ignored her, holding Corfo’s head between her palms. Delenn reached over, covered one of her hands with her own, then eased Corfo’s head back down to the floor. She grabbed Laetitia, dragged her to her feet, and started to go back the way they had been headed, before the Drazi found them.
The Minbari was blocking their way, a Carnifex just behind him.
Laetitia moaned, a sound of such total despair that Delenn felt tears prick her eyes. Hope should never be abandoned. Hope is more than an idle wish, a vague desire for something better. Hope is the force that pushes us to strive, to struggle, to survive. The Second Recitation of Diligent Hope. How meaningless the words seemed to her now. Composed by someone who had never faced darkness, who had never known evil. There was no hope.
“You’re far more resourceful than I had expected,” the Minbari said, and Delenn put her arms around the human girl, who had started shaking. “I had planned on making you one of my pets, but that seems like it would be such a waste. I shall have to find something else to do with you, dear little one.”
“I’ll kill myself first.” The Minbari only smiled at that, and then he nodded at the Carnifex. The creature came forward, and Delenn found she could not move. There was none of the suffocating fear from before, no sense of something weighing her down; the messages she was sending to her legs to run were simply not being received. She could hear Laetitia’s thoughts; no words, just a jumble of emotions.
The Carnifex grabbed Corfo’s body, lifting him up to that enormous mouth. Delenn’s dress fell away, landing in the puddle of blood. Then the Carnifex started eating the corpse, bite after bite, bones and all. Delenn tried to look away, tried to close her eyes, but could not. The Minbari made them watch.
Down a new corridor, the Minbari behind them. If Delenn even thought about doing anything other than walking straight ahead, she felt a prod in her mind. Painful, each time a violation that shook her. She thought she would have gotten used to it by now. She was very aware of the Minbari’s eyes on her, aware that she was wearing only a thin shift and one stocking, shoes abandoned in the monitoring station. Her bare foot hurt, and she was surprised she could feel that through the louder onslaught of pain from her broken ribs. Laetitia’s eyes had dried long ago; now she seemed to walk in a daze, one hand loosely holding Delenn’s. Every now and then one of the human’s thoughts would drift up to the surface of Delenn’s mind like a bubble of air in a pool of water. I miss Julius.
Delenn thought of John. She tried not to; she didn’t want the Minbari to know those thoughts. They were hers, and hers alone. But she couldn’t help it. She remembered the way he had grabbed her after she had killed the Carnifex, his mouth hard on hers, his arms tight around her. The way he had smelled; strong and male and so comforting. The way his fingers had dug into the flesh on her back, the pleasure she had felt in that dull pain. She could hear a caustic laugh, but didn’t know if she heard it with her ears or her mind.
And then John’s voice, all around. For a moment, Delenn thought she was having some kind of hallucination, brought on by the stress. But no, his voice was coming out of the loudspeakers set up high on the walls. Delenn put a hand over her heart, and was aware of how much the Minbari had been in her mind only when he left completely.
“Second, all of the enemy aboard - the Carnifex, the mindless ones seemingly under telepathic control, and any other hostile forces - do not deal well with anger. It seems to interfere with their telepathy. So, if you find yourself paralyzed with fear while confronting them, just think about everything that’s happened to you today. Think about those you may have lost. And let yourself get really angry.” Delenn could tell he was trying to sound strong, in control, but there was something in his voice there at the end. Which one of them had he lost? Ivanova or Garibaldi?
Or was he referring to her?
“Don’t let them win. That’s all.” The loudspeakers cut out, and Delenn turned, waiting for that prod to keep her from doing so, but she continued without restriction. The Minbari was shaking, whether from fear or anger she could not tell. Let yourself get really angry, John had said. Ivanova had been angry, after the Minbari had asked her to join him and she had refused with very strong language; he had collapsed. Delenn herself had been angry, when the Carnifex had come into the communications room, when she had seen John grab at his head beside her; as soon as she’d registered the emotion, she had been able to stand, work up the nerve to take up her denn’bok and address the Carnifex.
Delenn listened to John’s voice again in her head, that tiny crack she had heard, that no one else would have caught. Think about those you may have lost. John wouldn’t lose her. She vowed it, as she came toward the Minbari, who actually took a step back at her approach. She had been so afraid of him, afraid of the Carnifex. She had been afraid of the Carnifex since childhood, since she had first heard the story whispered after one of Minbar’s colonies had been attacked. Ever since they had found the body in the stairwell all those hours ago, she had been steeped in fear. All that fear, and it turned out that all that was needed was an application of anger. A kind of Mora’dum.
"John didn't give up. He didn't leave. He's here, in Brown Sector. You're afraid of him, aren't you? You're afraid of me - that is why you told me that lie. You know that together we will defeat you." The Minbari was shaking his head, eyes screwed shut, muttering under his breath.
“What did they promise you, in return for your allegiance?" Delenn found herself suffused with strength. The pain in her ribs melted away. "What was more important to you than the lives of your own people? Money? Spoils?”
The Minbari dropped to his knees, hands clutching his head. His voice came out in a pained snarl. “Power. They give me power.”
“No amount of power will save you in the end. I will make sure of that." The Minbari fell forward then, and Delenn kicked him as hard as she could in the head.
She turned. Laetitia was huddled in a ball against the wall, staring up at Delenn with awe in her eyes. Delenn held out her hand, the girl took it, and together they ran up the corridor.
The PPG was out of charge. No more energy caps; even if there were, no time to load. Ivanova kept firing, little sparks all that came out of the weapon, and the last Carnifex standing was only a meter away, claws extended. Time for one last thought. Guess this is how I meet my end after all. Then the Carnifex stopped dead in its tracks, its monstrous feet only inches from her head. Ivanova peered up as best she could. There was a hole in its head, gently smoking. Then another hole appeared in its chest, and another. The bright flashes of PPG hits. Ivanova looked down at her gun, then back up at the creature as it toppled backward, dead.
“Commander?” Ivanova rolled onto her shoulder, turned her head as much as she could, sought out who had spoken. And there, just down the corridor, was Zack Allan, PPG still held out in front of him. Garibaldi was breathing hard beside her, kneeling down until his head touched the floor. Hands knotted on the back of his head. She thought he might be crying. Zack was running toward them. He wasn’t the only one - she saw Londo and Vir, other Centauri, and then Drazi, Brakiri, Minbari. All of Green Sector it looked like, coming their way.
Ivanova reached over, grabbed at Garibaldi's jacket.
“Look, Michael. Here comes the cavalry.”
VIII. First Against the Wall