The Angels of Babylon
The jump out of hyperspace sent a dull shock through the Limelight, shaking G'Skai awake. He took a deep breath and eased himself out from under his covers.
He checked the time and smiled - it had been eight hours since the ship had launched from Milau, and he'd slept through the entire time. Thankfully his son, G'Sten, had been just as tired from a long day of gazing at twin suns and crimson waterfalls and slept so soundly that even the jump didn't wake him. G'Sten was always restless when there was nothing to do, and there was little in the galaxy more boring than a second-class flight through hyperspace.
G'Skai was on an interplanetary tour with Freespace, a human tour company run from the Proxima colony. Somehow it was always the humans who popped these ventures up all over the galaxy, catering to beings from every system with the money to spare. G'Sten had caught his father flipping through a holo-ad of these tours, and had started begging to go; Freespace was the cheapest and closest, and so they went, father and son.
The cabin loudspeaker came on, repeating the usual welcomes, well-wishes and advertisements. G'Skai tuned it out until he heard the important word: Chau-IV, the name of the planet they were approaching. He read the entry on his pad; apparently, the chief attraction of this planet wasn't its natural wonder or exotic locals, but the ruins of a now-gone civilization. G'Skai groaned, not for himself but for his son; G'Sten would probably find the idea boring and annoy him during the entire trip.
In the bunk below, he heard his son waking up. G'Skai jumped down from his bed and faced G'Sten, who was already wide awake and excited for their next adventure.
"Where are we now, father?" he inquired cheekily before G'Skai could greet him. He was about to try and scold the boy on his manners, but decided not to bother this time.
"The place is called Chau-IV. Here, see for yourself," he said, and put the datapad in his son's hands. He paced and talked as the boy read. "It's a very old civilization, died out hundreds of years ago, no one knows why. Buildings thirty stories tall and still standing, abandoned aircraft, vehicles, even spacecraft although they never discovered hyperspace." He paused. "I think it'll be very interesting…"
G'Skai turned around, only to see that his son was already back on the bed with the datapad on the edge. "I think it's very uninteresting," G'Sten said carelessly.
"Not this again," thought G'Skai. He stood over the bed and tried to take on a sterner tone. "That's what you said about Mar Sara, too," he said.
"That's because I thought it would be like this," G'Sten replied with his face to the window.
"Look at me when you talk," said G'Skai. "G'Sten!"
His son rolled over. "I'm sorry, father, but I'm still sleepy. I think you should go by yourself."
G'Skai sighed deeply again. He didn't enjoy having to deal with his son like this, and now G'Sten was starting it before they had even landed. "You're barely out of your pouch, son, and you are not going to leave your father alone."
"But you'll enjoy it, father," G'Sten said. "You always want to get away by yourself."
"If I want to go by myself, I will. But today you're with me, and we are going together."
G'Sten rolled back over before his father was even done talking. G'Skai was about to raise his voice even more, but ended up simply sighing as he realized his heart just wasn't in it. Besides, the usual Narn disciplinary methods weren't safe to carry out on a human-run ship, and G'Skai decided that he really would get some time alone. Come to think of it, a walk on an alien planet without his son to watch the whole time was something he'd normally never get a chance to do.
G'Skai grabbed his datapad, climbed back into the top bunk and strapped himself in as the ship turned to enter the planet's atmosphere. The cloudy, gray shape of the planet rolled into view outside the window. G'Skai lay down to rest a bit more and think of better ways to handle his son when G'Sten interrupted his thoughts.
"Are they sure no one's alive down there?" he asked.
"Of course they are, son. They don't visit inhabited planets unless they are perfectly sure.
"Then it really is boring," G'Sten sighed in a childish, droning voice. G'Skai tuned him out and closed his eyes. The loudspeaker came on again, announcing their landing procedures and tour instructions, followed by another inane human advertisement from the other side of the galaxy.
G'Skai left his son, once again asleep, in their cabin on the ship. He wanted to lock G'Sten in, but the crew wouldn't let him, so he just locked the door and left the second access card under G'Sten's own mattress. At least that way, he'd waste just a bit more time looking for it before running off to explore. Freespace was relatively cheap, but they were still responsible, and the cabin crew promised to make sure G'Sten didn't leave the ship by himself.
So G'Skai had three hours to explore the abandoned city of Chau IV by himself. Though the city was in a hundred years of disrepair, all the buildings were made of a material that appeared highly resistant to the elements. Looking closely at one of the homes, G'Skai realized that the walls were actually stone and stood strong in the dry air, yet even to this day glistened with the unmistakable shine of steel – rock fused with metal. The simplicity and strength of the earth, combined with the innovation of metalwork, had built a city that would stand for generations. It reminded him of Narn and how they, throwing off the Centauri a hundred years ago, came out of their hiding holes and dark caves and took their civilization to Narn's highest mountains, reaching into the sky.
G'Skai walked under a cloudy sky, gray with a tint of beige, with a faint sun up above. The desolation around him made him think more of Narn, the Centauri invasion and the Shadow War that followed. He had been a fighter pilot on Narn at the time of the wars, and had seen enough empty buildings and cities utterly cleansed of life by war and destruction to last a lifetime. His son was right – he did need to be alone. In the eyes of every Narn he had met in two years, all he had seen was the grief of war, the knowledge that every one of them had seen a friend murdered in front of them. Even G'Sten had it – G'Skai's other son had been outside during the first siege of Narn, and neither of them ever saw his face again.
One of the tallest buildings nearby, apparently a 35-story living complex, was marked as "safe for entry" on his pad. From the balcony on the highest floor, G'Skai looked over the city. It stretched for several miles in every direction, with hills on three sides and an ocean on the last. From here, he could see the abandoned port where the Freespace shuttle had landed.
Footsteps came from the staircase to the balcony opposite his. G'Skai took a glimpse, but turned back just as quickly. The other man was a Centauri, the only one on the shuttle with them. Inwardly, G'Skai became very glad that G'Sten wasn't with him. The Centauri looked average enough, neither a noble nor a poor man, and didn't look at G'Skai at all.
G'Skai breathed heavily and closed his eyes. He had made peace with his losses, but the hatred, the instinctual rage that living under slavery and oppression had crafted in all Narn, nevertheless stayed and would stay forever in his heart. A balcony on an abandoned planet, no witnesses, no weapons…but G'Skai knew he could not become a killer again. He thought of his son and family, whom he and his wife supported and cared for. He imagined the peace taught by G'Quan, the way the Narn had rebuilt after the Shadow War and the way G'Kar led them today with messages of peace, justice and devotion. He saw G'Lan and reminded himself of his faith; he opened his eyes and the rage was gone, and his mind was calm again. The sky was growing yellow now as the sun drew towards the horizon and left the clouds behind. Below him, two human tourists looked up and took a photo of the tower; the one-hour departure warning rang out from his pad.
G'Skai heard the Centauri man's footsteps leaving the other balcony. He waited a moment as his footsteps faded away, looked over the horizon once more and went back down the staircase. Some of the doors were missing, he noticed, apparently not made of the same material as the walls. The same could be said for the furnishings, as the room was filled with nothing but rotting metal, refuse and dust.
No bones anywhere, of course – probably decayed along with everything else by now, if they were ever there at all. All the spacecraft on the planet were short-range and obviously incapable of interstellar flight, but there was an ancient jumpgate just beyond the edge of the star system. The humans saw a tomb like this and immediately assumed extinction as they always did, he thought, but the race that lived here could simply have left all those years ago.
"Left or ran away?" G'Skai thought. He'd never know, obviously. Maybe the humans would know, someday in the future, when the stricter elements of their government found out about this planet and carried out a proper exploration. G'Skai made a note to himself to pay attention to this place and whatever archaeological expedition found it first.
He went outside and turned to go deeper into the city. The human tourists were going the other way, back towards the shuttle, and the Centauri was nowhere to be seen. Hopefully, he thought, his last hour on this planet would be spent in complete solitude.
Back in his chambers minutes before liftoff, G'Skai found his son curled up on the bunk. Surprising that he could be so tired, he thought. Then he noticed that G'Sten was fully dressed, uncovered and wide awake.
"Did you enjoy your time on the ship, son?" he asked, but G'Sten didn't answer. G'Skai paused. His son had his face in his hands and he seemed to be mumbling to himself.
"You didn't go outside, did you?" he tried again. "Did you sneak past them, or am I going to have to complain?"
Still no answer. "G'Sten!" he exclaimed, and the boy turned over. His eyes were wide, as if he was afraid, but in his eyes G'Skai saw no fear.
"I'm sorry, father," he said quietly.
"Did you go outside?" G'Skai asked, hesitantly raising his voice. Now was definitely not the time he would enjoy disciplining the boy.
"No," G'Sten answered flatly and rolled over. "I will talk when we leave."
"G'Sten!" he yelled, but the boy interrupted him without raising his voice. "Please, father. I am praying. I will tell you when we leave, I promise."
With this, G'Sten rolled over and began praying again. G'Skai's anger turned to worry and he drew closer to his son.
"What happened, son?" he asked, but G'Sten remained quiet.
G'Skai sighed and went up to his bunk, looking out the window. The southwestern sky, opposite the sun, was already in twilight, with the last rays of sunset casting the faintest glow on the clouds above. What a place for the boy's first religious experience, he thought. Maybe this trip would be educational for him after all.
He lay down to rest before they had to strap in for liftoff. The shuttle wasn't leaving, though; twenty, thirty minutes passed but the engines didn't even come on. G'Skai heard some passengers leaving their quarters to complain to the crew. He was about to join them himself when the door suddenly opened without warning.
G'Skai sat up, wide-eyed, as six security guards marched into the room. Four of them immediately went to looking through his bags while the others eyed him suspiciously.
"What in the stars do you think you are doing?" G'Skai yelled, jumping down. He walked right up to the two at the door. "What is the meaning of this?"
One of the guards breathed in and looked away, while the other didn't change his expression.
"You will come with us, Citizen G'Skai."
"And why would I do that?" he retorted.
"You are under suspicion. And investigation. Come with us now, please."
"Suspicion of what?" he answered, incredulous.
"Murder," the other answered flatly. "Citizen G'Skai, please step outside. We won't be bothering your son."
G'Skai twisted around and realized G'Sten was still curled up on the bed. None of the searchers were paying any attention to the Narns as they opened up and checked every piece of their baggage.
The human behind him – the confident one – took him by the arm. The other was still looking away. Whatever this was, they were serious, he realized, and there was no point in fighting the humans on their own ship. G'Skai pushed through the humans into the hallway.
"Carry on, then," he said without facing them.
They walked him into the security office behind the bridge. One more man, apparently the head of security, was there, sitting at his desk. G'Skai looked at the screen behind him, saw the ID badge displayed on it and realized what was going on.
"Him? The Centauri?" he asked the chief. "I hope you have more than just my race to base such an accusation on."
"Of course, Citizen G'Skai," the chief said slowly. "Of course we have more to base it on. What do you think we are, racists?" He sounded more bored than accusatory.
"If that is the case, sir, I await your presentation of the evidence," G'Skai answered.
The chief looked at him, and his eyes looked just as bored as his voice. He pressed a few buttons on his pad, and the screen changed to a map. Apparently it was the city they'd just visited; two markers, red and blue, appeared on the screen.
"Sergeant, if you please," said the chief and leaned back in his chair.
The guard that had brought him here, the talking one, briskly walked forward pressed some buttons on the screen. The two dots started to move.
"The blue dot here is Talanar Dominicus, walking down the street from the northeast," he said. "The red dot, walking south, is Citizen G'Skai taking his own walk through the city."
G'Skai almost lost his composure. A tracking device, and without his knowledge? Only humans could be so brazenly insulting!
"At about 17:00 shipboard time, the two men enter Tower 16 a minute apart, with the Narn going in first," the sergeant went on, "and appear to go up to the balcony. Ten minutes later, both start to descend the building, with the Centauri now leaving twenty-six seconds earlier."
G'Skai wasn't listening. "You tracked me?" he yelled. "You had no right, and I will not let this stand!"
"Calm down, Citizen G'Skai," the chief remarked sullenly. "The brochure you downloaded came with embedded tracking software, which was well-documented in the agreement you signed when you came on board. Just a small security measure to keep everyone accounted for. Clearly, now it came in useful."
G'Skai looked at the screen again. "This is an insult! A libel! I did not kill that Centauri!"
"He never returned to the ship, Citizen," the sergeant said. "We found that his pad continued transmitting from that tower. Not only were you the only one nearby, but you were meters away from him the entire time. After that, the rest…" he trailed off.
"The rest is what?" G'Skai approached him, seething. "Guesses? Profiling?"
The sergeant stiffened, then smiled. "A reasonable conclusion."
"I did not kill him!" He turned to the chief, who was writing something on his desk. "You have no evidence, and I did not kill that Centauri!" The chief didn't look up. G'Skai turned around and saw the other guard, still at the door. Younger, he noticed, and still not meeting his eyes.
"How did I kill him, then?" he asked, walking towards the youth. "How far did I carry his body? My pad was with me the entire time. Where does it tell you I took it?"
The guard fidgeted a little, then looked at G'Skai, his face grim. "We've been looking for twenty minutes. We're about to find it."
"Well," G'Skai said through his teeth, "you be sure to let me know when you do."
"Just because we work on a bucket like this doesn't mean we're amateurs, Citizen," the chief said from behind him. "We found the body five minutes ago. The field medic is working on cause of death now." He looked up at G'Skai, who was still both enraged and dumbfounded. "Perhaps, Citizen, you would like to tell us yourself before I get that call? It won't be any worse for you, you know."
"Once again, sir, I have nothing to confess to!"
The chief sighed. "Very well, then. Officers, restrain him, please."
Both guards moved quickly, cuffing G'Skai's hands and sitting him down in a chair. He resisted enough to make them struggle, but ended up sitting down anyway. He knew there was nothing those guards could possibly find to implicate him.
The screen blinked, and then the map was replaced by a comm window. Another human, somewhere in the darkened city and dressed in the same uniform, appeared.
"Tell me everything, Lieutenant," the chief said.
"Sir…" the man on screen said, looking at G'Skai and the other guards. G'Skai noticed that he looked quite distraught. "Sir, you should take this privately."
The chief threw G'Skai a look, then pulled out a headset. The image on the screen disappeared. He talked quietly, but G'Skai heard most of what he said anyway.
"What's going on?"
"Okay, so what killed him?"
"Okay…I understand, yes, but what's the cause of death? What killed him?"
The last was a loud exclamation. The chief, frowned, listened a bit more, then shook his head and turned the headset off. G'Skai looked at him, his expression unchanging, until the chief looked up again.
"Citizen G'Skai, you are a former soldier, correct?"
Again with the insults, he thought. "Yes, sir, I am," he said, relenting from shouting at the last moment.
"How much do you know about Centauri physiology?" the chief asked quietly.
Now this was interesting. What did they think he was, an assassin? "Enough," he said.
"How long...how long does it take for them to starve?"
Now they were losing their minds. Did they seriously think that any sentient creature's metabolism could consume itself in the few hours they were on this planet? "Not much faster than you, sir," he answered with a smirk.
The chief sighed, then looked down. "Uncuff him, please," he said, "but please stay here, Citizen. Just for a few minutes."
The guards obeyed, and G'Skai looked at their faces. They seemed as confused as he was.
"Did they find something…unusual, sir?" G'Skai asked.
"We'll discuss it when they get here," the chief replied and turned away.
They all sat there for the next ten minutes. Another guard, who G'Skai recognized as one of the ones searching his chambers, came in, whispered something to the chief and left. Outside, he heard the attendants assuring a constant flow of complaining tourists that everything was perfectly fine.
Soon, though, a troop of guards marched into the office. One of them had a whiter uniform – apparently the "field medic" – and they rolled in a cart covered with tarp.
The chief stood up. "Is that it?" he asked, pointing at the cart.
"Yes, sir," the medic started, fumbling around for some devices at the back of the room. "We couldn't get a proper measure in the field…we're lucky we could even get COD properly. Just give me a moment, we'll have everything shortly…" he said, almost mumbling.
"Where did you find it again?" the chief asked.
"In a caved-in basement, southeast of here. Two floors below ground level. The scanner barely penetrated, we got lucky, I think, but we can't get a proper read on the time…bear with me." The medic pressed a few switches in the back, and a mass of medical equipment popped out of the wall all around him. So it was a security office and a medical station. The others wheeled the cart in the middle of the equipment.
The chief sighed. "Citizen G'Skai, we apologize for the accusations we made. Clearly, you were never near the location where this death occurred, and we're truly sorry."
"Your apology is appreciated," said G'Skai, his expression unchanged. Then he added, "So why, exactly, were you asking me about starvation?"
"It's how he died," the medic said, interrupting. The guards picked up the top of the cart, with the tarp-covered object still on it, and placed it on the medical table. "The location kept it safe from too much decomposition, but that's all we were able to find out. That and his identity, of course. But the time, oh God, we just have to find the time…" the medic stammered.
"Time?" the sergeant behind him asked, confused. "Time of what?"
He took the tarp off, and everyone except the ones who had brought it in almost jumped back. The corpse on the table was Centauri, for sure, but it was rotting and decrepit. It was at the worst stage of decomposition – already disfigured enough to be revolting, but still recognizable as the living thing it once was. Most of the muscle mass on the extremities was gone, and bones were showing everywhere if not falling apart.
The medic ran one of the scanners over the body, his hand shaking as he did so. The room was completely quiet and still. When he was done, he looked at it for a second, tossed it aside and slumped into a chair.
"Well?" the chief asked.
"Six," the medic said through his hands. "That body…died…six years ago. Of starvation. Underneath that building."
"Lieutenant, how in the hell is that possible?" the chief said, but the other just buried his head in his hands. "Okay, then," he sighed, "how is it still anything other than bone? Six years, even in a basement, is a pretty damn long time."
G'Skai looked up. "Centauri bodies are more resistant to decomposition than most," he said. It was something he had learned on Narn, from the trophies that some of his friends in the Resistance liked to keep even after the wars. "Even so, six years…you are lucky you found him at all."
The chief stood up, suddenly angry. "But it wasn't six years! I saw that man walk out of here four hours ago, he…He was in the city, he was in that tower, and suddenly…what? He popped back in time?"
"Or he was sent," G'Skai remarked grimly.
The chief eyed him incredulously. "I'm sorry, but who the hell are you pretending to be right now?" Humans, G'Skai thought, they were always more skeptical than anyone of what they didn't know.
"A resident of the universe, sir," he said. "What was your name, by the way?" he asked offhandedly.
"Flight-captain John Davies."
G'Skai almost smirked again. So the security chief was also the ship's captain. Hopefully those tour guides were having a good time keeping the passengers away from the empty cockpit, he remarked to himself. Humans always did an above-average job of keeping up a façade of respectability and preparedness, especially as they carelessly ran around the galaxy, poking a stick at every little curiosity. Eventually, they all ended up waking up far too much for them to handle.
Looking around the room, he noticed that all the humans were looking at him like an expert now, and well they might. He had no idea what was going on, of course, but the Narns had learned to respect the unknown dangers of the galaxy long ago, and even the humans knew this.
"Well, Captain Davies, you know one thing: I did not kill Mr. Dominicus. I was quite literally not there or then when he died, nor could I have been." He paused. "The other thing you know is that something just happened, something you do not understand and are obviously" – he glanced at the guards and at the five spare PPG's on the wall – "not equipped to understand, either. So I suggest that you do the one thing this ship is equipped to do – fly away and never look back."
Davies started to respond, but G'Skai interrupted him. "You didn't perform a proper search of this planet before you landed. You did one scan for life, another for starships and one more for breathable air, and then you went back to your employers and gave them the answer they paid you for. You never asked yourselves why three-quarters of the landing pads were empty, or why all the empty ones just happened to be ten times larger than the others. You never did find out why there was a jumpgate on the edge of an abandoned star system. Amateurs or not, today you aren't exactly the pinnacle of responsibility."
"Just leave. Go. Before whatever it is that claimed Talanar's life takes another of your passengers."
With that, G'Skai turned and walked briskly out of the room. Not a single guard tried to stop him.
G'Skai was barely in his room when the shuttle announced imminent liftoff. The guards hadn't cleaned up after themselves, he noticed with disdain, even though they obviously hadn't found anything. G'Sten was lying flat on the bed with his eyes closed and breathing heavily; asleep, G'Skai hoped.
He got up to his bunk and strapped in as the ship began to lift off. They flew horizontally at first, over the ocean; outside the window, G'Skai noticed two bright moons – a yellow one far near the northern horizon and a brilliant white one far above to the west. Where the two lights met below, the reflection cast a glow on the shuttle, the sky and the shoreline back east; in the sky between the moons, G'Skai could see the shape of every cloud and the yellow-white rays glowing between them.
It is beautiful, he thought, and yet a man died on this planet, and nobody on this ship will ever know why. Such was the nature of this universe. The primary rockets fired as the ship angled towards the sky, leaving the empty city of Chau IV behind forever.
When the artificial gravity stabilized, G'Skai unstrapped himself and lay down to relax. He knew they were going to another planet now, but for the time being he didn't care. It had been a very long day, and all he wanted was a moment of rest. But about forty minutes later, when they began to cruise through hyperspace, he heard his son's voice from below.
"Father," G'Sten said, "are you awake?"
G'Skai opened his eyes and answered, "Yes."
"I need to talk to you." His voice was tinged with worry.
"What is it, G'Sten? Did you have an…experience while you were waiting?"
There was no answer. G'Skai waited a moment, then jumped down to the floor. G'Sten was in the same position on the bed; the only change was that he had opened his eyes.
G'Skai kneeled down next to him. "G'Sten, tell me what happened."
His son sighed and started talking. He did not meet his father's eyes.
"I did not leave the ship while you were away, but I did leave my room. I was bored during the last hour of your absence and so I went to explore what I could of the ship."
"The main decks were dull and empty and they would not let me see the bridge, so I decided to look at the bottom levels. The machinery, the hyperdrive, everything that was off-limits to me."
G'Skai interrupted him. "Son, you know you are not supposed to…"
"Please, Father," G'Sten said quickly, cutting him off as he suddenly rose from the bed.
"It matters not why I did it. There were no guards and no people there – nobody expected me to try to go to those rooms. I explored freely and I did not touch anything."
He paused and sighed. "But I saw something, Father. Something I have never thought possible and something I am afraid I do not wish to understand. And now, Father, I must show you."
Before G'Skai could react, G'Sten walked straight out of the room. When G'Skai followed him out, he was already halfway down the corridor to the transport tube. G'Skai caught up with his son as he was calling the lift.
"G'Sten, what are you doing? Come back to the quarters. Now!" he yelled, but G'Sten did not listen and walked into the arriving tube. With no other choice, G'Skai followed him in.
He grabbed his son by the arms and twisted him around. G'Sten's face was composed and unblinking.
"Please, Father," he said calmly. "I must show you, or at least take you there and explain what I saw. It is the only way I can comprehend this."
"But what did you see?" G'Skai asked, incredulous.
"G'Lan," his son answered quietly. "I saw G'Lan," he repeated, dropping his voice to almost a whisper.
The tube reached the bottom and G'Sten walked out just as quickly. G'Skai ran out after him, confused. He was sure he was misunderstanding something, because otherwise his son was implying that he had seen G'Lan, the heavenly creature of Narn legend, in the depths of a human ship. Did these tour guides keep Dust in the cargo bays or put something in the water?
G'Sten began looking around frantically as he walked. They were in the engine rooms now, he noticed, and were passing through a lot of unlocked bulkheads. There were no guards around, either, in yet another display of human carelessness. Lights blinked and steam surged all around the tight brown corridors, as G'Sten kept rounding corners and vaulting down flights of stairs. He looked into every doorway and around every edge without saying a word, then went on to the next. G'Skai, barely keeping up, continued to follow in aggravated silence.
They kept this up for five minutes, until G'Sten finally stopped, worn out, in a large round chamber with red-colored bulkheads. He leaned against a console and closed his eyes. G'Skai, in an effort to hide his own exhaustion, placed himself several feet from the boy.
"Son," he said, "you may have had a hallucination. Either that, or you are simply inventing this. You cannot just see G'Lan when and wherever you please."
G'Sten looked at his father for a moment, then walked to the side to sit on a crate.
"I am sorry, Father, but I was sure that I saw it. First outside the cargo bays, then in one of these corridors, just barely disappearing around a corner."
But G'Skai wasn't listening anymore. He was looking at the console that G'Sten had been leaning on.
"It was impossible, Father. It or he, or she, I do not know how to describe a holy being. But it was terrifying."
The image on the screen terrified G'Skai far more. It was a diagram of the primary fusion reactor and the energy converters. Half the power conduits were flashing red, as was the entire core itself.
"Its face was shaped like ours, like Narn. And its wings…wings twice the size of its body. I saw it and thought instantly of the books of G'Quan and the other ancients."
G'Skai was a fighter pilot, but like all Narn soldiers he was also an engineer by necessity, from the days when crews were so scarce that fighter pilots had to fill critical roles on their motherships due to shortages. He knew a fusion core design by heart, and there was obviously something very wrong with this one. Not only that, but he could see some parts that he was sure had no relation whatsoever to a working fusion engine.
"I am sorry for dragging you out, Father!" his son cried out to the side. "Such an image, what else could it be? What could it be other than G'Lan?"
G'Skai swiveled around, distraught and not listening. "G'Sten, you were down here before. What is this room?"
His son looked up, confused. "The fusion core control room, I believe. Why?"
Control room?! G'Skai thought, turning around. How incompetent were these humans? Someone had to be here, monitoring it! But the space was completely empty, and there was no sound from the corridors aside from the steam overhead and the regular beeping of the lights.
Lights? He had to look at the ceiling for a few seconds before he realized what was happening. This room was not red – its walls were a steel compound, painted white. The red light was coming from the alarms shining on every single control panel in the room.
G'Skai rushed to the next console. The holographic diagram showed him a power feedback of enormous scale into the main reactor. Somehow, every single system on the ship had been re-routed to send its power input back into the core. From what he could see, when enough power was stored in the converters, they would release and create a reaction of immense proportions. Fusion reactions normally released very little radiation, but a power surge on this scale would not only destroy the core but also increase the radioactive output a hundredfold.
But the radiation wouldn't just spill out, because the feeds that normally leaked radiation out into space had been re-routed. G'Skai had no idea how it was even possible to do, but the leaks had either been twisted or removed to spill into the oxygen and life-support systems.
G'Skai tried to access the system, but nothing worked. The console did nothing other than show what was already happening. He ran to the next, and the next, but every single one was inoperable; it was like the entire control program had been ripped out of the network.
His son walked after him, confused. "Father, is something wrong?"
G'Skai ran to the communications outlet on the wall without answering. He tried to call the bridge, but got no answer; same thing with security, and the passenger deck. The system was just as broken as the other consoles.
"G'Sten, someone has attacked this ship," he said to his son. "The core has been rigged to kill everyone on board, and this room is empty."
His son simply nodded, instantly ready to help his father in an emergency. "What can we do?"
"We are still flying, so we go to the bridge. Hopefully they are still capable of doing something to help. Either way, whoever did this will be coming for them next."
G'Sten nodded and quickly ran out first, G'Skai following after him. His son retraced their path quickly and easily, and before long they were on the bridge deck. As they ran to the bridge itself, they noticed that the door was gone.
G'Sten ran in and nearly tripped – the door had been torn out of the bulkhead and was crumpled on the floor inside. Half the lights were torn out and the others were nearly dead; none of the crew were anywhere to be seen.
As his son stood, overtly calm but with eyes open wide in fear, G'Skai went straight to the console. He couldn't even try to access it, though – all the panels were ripped out, smashed and completely destroyed. The only active console was on the side wall, and all it showed was the same thing: the feedback diagram from the main reactor.
"Whatever did this was in a hurry," G'Skai said, partly talking to himself. He turned to his son, who listened patiently. "We cannot save the ship, but we have to let the passengers know. I doubt the alarms or announcement systems will be accessible, so we have to act fast. We don't have a lot of time…"
Suddenly, the entire lighting grid went dark, in the room and in the hallway behind them. A series of dull whines went through the hull, the last console went dark and the vessel shuddered as the engines died.
"Has it started?" his son asked, now scared.
"Yes," G'Skai answered. He went through a few calculations in his head. "There is no time to warn everyone. We have to get to the lifepods and pray that enough of the others notice what is wrong and follow us in."
G'Sten nodded, and they took off again down the corridor. The emergency lighting went online, then began to spark and die out, fighting against the power drain. G'Skai ran ahead, down to the passenger deck that had the lifepods behind it. People were coming out of their quarters all around them, confused, scared or angry.
"Get to the lifepods!" G'Skai yelled, running past them. "The crew is gone, there is no time to explain, just get to the lifepods as quickly as you can!"
The aliens behind them began to scream, most in fear but some in anger. A few gathered up their families and started to follow the Narns; others tried to gather some of their things while a few ran to the bridge, unwilling to follow an alien without some word of authority. G'Skai ignored them; he knew they probably did not have time to be saved. All he cared about now was saving his son.
Power lines and consoles blew out on all sides as the lights continued to dim. A crash sounded out from somewhere behind them and G'Skai and G'Sten ran over broken cords and pieces of metal all over the floor. The core could blow at any moment, and the life-support feeds would irradiate the ship in seconds. They could not hear any other passengers behind them, but they did manage to reach the lifepod corridor.
Suddenly, G'Sten screamed, and something crashed loudly where he was standing. By the time G'Skai spun around, his son was gone.
What was in his place filled G'Skai with horror. It was the shape just as G'Sten had described it. The wings twice the size of the body, the head in the form of a Narn, arms outstretched towards him. The light was behind it and the silhouette was all that he saw.
"G'Lan…" he whispered and almost fell to his knees, but then sanity returned to him. It was wrong, it was impossible, the ship was almost destroyed, his son was gone….His son! G'Skai wanted to scream, to hurt the thing, the creature in front of him that had taken him, that was violating all his beliefs with its appearance. But as the ship continued to shudder and the lights nearly died, the urge to survive was too much and G'Skai grabbed the door of the nearest lifepod.
He would have gone inside if a power conduit opposite him hadn't exploded, briefly illuminating him and the creature with white light and making G'Skai recoil in terror. The creature's entire body was perfectly still and like polished marble; its arms were reaching towards him, clawed fingers on each hand. The face was not Narn; it was humanoid, but unidentifiable, its eyes white and empty and a large mouth, with teeth sharper than a Centauri's, open as if in a scream. As the explosion faded, the creature did not move and G'Skai continued to grapple with the pod door; but then the emergency lights flared, sparked and died, G'Skai felt a force pressing on him from every side and he screamed as his whole body twisted in impossible, indescribable contortions. He saw the lifepod, then the ceiling, the creature, the hyperspace beyond the ship and a cacophony of color and light in a single instant; he did not have time to scream again as his body succumbed to the pain and everything went dark.
The engines flared to life one last time seconds before the end, taking the ship from its excursion route back into the beacon system of the galaxy proper. Then the energy in the core began to release, spewing heat into the reactor and a storm of radioactive particles through every air vent and cooling unit within the ship. Within a minute, everybody still aboard was dead or dying, and the fusion core itself succumbed to the heat and exploded, ripping apart the vessel's bottom levels. With all power gone, the ship continued in a steady drift towards the worlds of the Interstellar Alliance, quiet and calm but for the lone Weeping Angel still hidden onboard.