THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
Rating: PG-13, most likely
Series: B5/Star Trek crossovers (independent pieces). A sequel to "Still Not In Kansas."
Archiving: sure, just ask first
Disclaimer: Babylon 5 belongs to JMS and Time Warner. Star Trek – Voyager belongs to Gene Roddenberry and whoever else keeps the rights at the moment. I'm just borrowing their characters to have a little fun. No harm intended and (alas!) no money made.
Timeline: Late Season 3 for B5 (from after "Grey 17 is Missing" possibly during two or three episodes), early Season 4 for Voyager, but Kes is still on board and has not evolved into an elated being
Summary: Voyager discovers another wormhole/anomaly. Instruments state that it leads to the Epsilon Eridani system in the AQ. Everyone is happy, as this would mean they might end up somewhere near Vulcan. However, the anomaly leads to a different universe, and they end up right in front of B5. While they are waiting for the anomaly to reappear, they get involved in the life of the station. Would they ever find a way back to their own universe?
A SHORT FOREWORD
A SHORT FOREWORD
This story is the direct continuation of my very first Babylon 5 fanfic, the one titled "Still Not in Kansas". You really should read that one first, or many things in this one won't make much sense.
This has become an independent story for the simple reason that I didn't want "Kansas" to go on indefinitely. So I ended it where it became a strong possibility that Draal and the Great Machine would be able to help the Voyager people to get back to their own universe. The sequel will show how it would happen – if it would happen at all.
In most of my fandoms (save one) I write crossovers and AUs. This story is no exception. As I like both Babylon 5 and Star Trek, I tried to stay as close as canon as possible. Mistakes can always happen, of course, despite the ungodly amount of research I've done. Also, since this is an AU, some things are different. But only those that were necessary for this story to work.
"The Yellow Brick Road" is, of course, another 'The Wizard of Oz" reference. It seemed somehow fitting, despite of its silliness as a story title.
Author's notes: For disclaimer, rating, etc., see the Introduction.
This chapter (and the following ones) contains elements of the Babylon 5 episode "And the Rock Cried Out No Hiding Place". However, I skipped the visit of the religious representatives, as it would have made me deal with too many protagonists. I focused on the Centauri storyline instead and simply assumed that Sheridan still had his sources on Earth.
Also, I'm aware that Barbie dolls probably won't exist in the 23rd century anymore. But it's a reference that 21st century readers will understand, so I decided to keep it. Besides, as teddy bears canonically do exist in the B5 universe, I thought I could stretch a little the limits of credibility. *g*
Commander's personal log, December 7, 2260
There's an old Chinese curse that says: May you live in interesting times! Well, the recent days have confirmed me that we must have upset at least half all Chinese people living on Earth and on the various Earth colonies in our previous lives – assuming that the Minbari are right about this rebirth thing.
Babylon 5 has always been an… interesting place, but last week has topped everything I've seen here in the last two and half years… and that's saying a lot. We have barely recovered from the loss of Kosh – the original one – and Jeff Sinclair in short succession, when Franklin left us, too. He's still on walkabout. No one's seen him for over a week. I hope he's all right and will work this through, soon. We gonna need him back in MedLabs. Lillian Hobbs is an excellent doctor, but she's got nowhere near the knowledge and experience when it comes to alien races that Franklin has.
With Jeff gone, Delenn of all people was chosen as the new leader of the Rangers – which led to great displeasure on Minbar, especially among the Warrior Caste who considered the Rangers as their own responsibility; not that they've cared much for them in the last thousand years or so. One of the Warrior leaders, Alyt Neroon, was determined to prevent Delenn's inauguration as Ranger One, and our resident Ranger, Marcus Cole, nearly gave his life to protect her. He's still in MedLab, with three broken ribs and other severe injuries. As annoying as he sometimes can be, seeing him like this is not easy.
The strangest thing is, though, that he and Neroon seemed to have come to some kind of understanding. Neroon visited him several times before leaving aboard the Ingata, and when he finally did leave, he left his young nephew, Rastenn, behind – apparently to learn from Marcus. Wonders never cease to exist, it seems… especially considering the fact that Rastenn has apparently developed a friendship with Vir Cotto, of all peope! A young, arrogant, impatient Minbari warrior made friends with the meekest, most intimidated Centauri the Republic has ever bred.
Did I really say this was the strangest thing that has happened lately? Well, I was wrong. The really weird thing – more shocking even than the new Vorlon ambassador – was the appearance of Voyager. An Earth ship from the future as well as from a different universe; a ship that had crossed a spatial anomaly and ended up right before our doorstep.
We're trying to keep its presence as low-key as possible, but on Babylon 5, there aren't really any secrets. Everything will be revealed sooner or later, just like the existence of a previously unknown level of Grey Sector, which Night Watch and other militant Pro-Earth organizations have used as their home base in all these years… and we hadn't even known!
Now, aside from preparing ourselves for the next, probably disastrous battle against the Shadows, we'll also have to deal with the captured Night Watch members and hunt down the ones still on the loose aboard the station. It won't be an easy thing to do. We can't know what other hidden places are there on Babylon 5, where more such enemies can be hiding – and we can't trust the safety of our comm system, either.
Fortunately, Voyager is assisting us in this matter. She's a small ship, but her technology is far more advanced than what even the Minbari have. Hopefully, her shields will prevent the freeing of the prisoners and an infiltration of the comm system. Also, her chief of security has offered to help us with the finding of further infiltrators.
Too bad that they can't get actively involved in the upcoming war. In that, Captain Janeway was adamant, and to a certain extent I even understand her reasoning. They belong to a different universe, and getting involved with ours, it could cause devastating effects. Still, their presence alone is a wonder that gives us hope. In a different reality, Earth has managed to overcome the petty power struggles and become part of a large interstellar alliance. Perhaps, if we survive the current crisis, something similar can happen with us, too. Ivanova out.
About a week or so after Ambassador Delenn's inauguration as the leader of the Anla'shok – or, as humans called them, the Rangers – Commander Chakotay, First officer of the Federation starship Voyager (currently trapped in the past of an alternate Earth) left his ship to visit the MedLabs of Babylon 5. Or, to be more accurate, to visit the de facto leader of said facilities, a certain Dr. Lillian Hobbs, for whom he'd developed more than just a professional interest since their arrival.
Quite frankly, he was surprised himself by the speed with which he'd fallen for the pretty doctor; he wasn't a young cadet anymore to have a crush at the first lovely woman coming his way. It even scared him a little – enough to almost ruin everything at the first date, out of caution. Luckily for him, they'd found the courage to talk about it, and things seemed promising once again. He was determined not to ruin his second chance with Lillian. As Sam Wildman had said, he needed a nice woman in his life, even though there were no guarantees how long they'll remain in this reality. Command – even second-hand command – tended to make people very lonely, and he'd had enough from being alone.
Leaving the docking bay, he walked by Customs, where he saw quite a crowd lining up for departure. In the middle of the crowd stood Michael Garibaldi, Babylon 5's chief of security, sorting through the waiting people and giving them individual destinations.
"Indira, Magda," he read out, and a fragile, dark-skinned woman wrapped into a sari raised a slim brown hand, richly decorated with thin golden rings. "You're with the Pak'ma'ra," Garibaldi told her.
She nodded and followed a weird-looking alien to Departure: a large, bald-headed, stooped creature with bulbous eyes and facial tentacles. Chakotay didn't envy her. What little he'd learned about the carrion-eater Pak'ma'ra wouldn't make him wish to serve on one of their ships. Their stench alone could upset a sensitive stomach – and not just that of a vegetarian.
"Nakari," Garibaldi turned to a curly-haired man with a vague Middle-Eastern look, "you're to rendezvous with the Narn Resistance in Sector 40." The man nodded and went on his way. Garibaldi thanked him and looked at the female Minbari next in the queue. "Ardiri, you and Glendora here," he pointed with his chin at an exotic-looking older woman of uncertain origins, "are assigned to…"
At this moment he discovered Chakotay and handed his notepad to his deputy at once. "Zack, can you take over for me? I'll be back in a moment."
"Sure, Chief," Zack Allen was used to such things and continued in Garibaldi's stead without a beat.
The security chief himself walked over to Chakotay. "Commander," he said. "What can I do for you? Is there a problem with your… houseguests?"
He was referring to the captured Night Watch members, currently being held in Voyager's brig, which was the only place their buddies won't be able to find them. Chakotay shook his head.
"No; I'm actually on my way to the MedLab to check on Marcus' condition. Some of our people have grown very fond of him and are concerned about his well-being. I just saw this crowd here and was curious what's going on."
"We are shipping out telepaths as fast as we can to the races that have signed up against the Shadows," Garibaldi explained. "Upon arrival, they'll be assigned to warships already on patrol."
"Right," Chakotay nodded. "Captain Sheridan told us that these Shadow vessels are vulnerable against telepathic interference. They are steered by cyborgs, aren't they?"
"Well, I wouldn't exactly call them cyborgs," Garibaldi sounded a little defensive. "It's not so that the poor devils had chosen to be crammed full of implants, so that they can interface with those awful ships directly."
"But their connection with the ships can be broken by telepaths, can't it?" Chakotay asked.
"Exactly," Garibaldi shuddered. "That's why we've been hiring telepath volunteers for some time by now; we hope to even out the odds a little."
"What exactly are those odds?" Chakotay asked quietly. "Can you really hope to stop the Shadows with the means that are at your disposal?"
Garibaldi shrugged. "Honestly? I don't know. But we have to try, at the very least. Right now, Sheridan is coordinating the defence with what's left from the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. He hardly ever leaves the war room any more. He tries not to show it, but one can see the exhaustion in his eyes. But he's still hoping, and as long as he does, we won't give up, either. I wish I could help him, but I never understood much about tactics. Sure, I fought in the Earth-Minbari war like everyone else, but I was just a ground-pounder."
"Perhaps I can help a little," Chakotay offered. "I used to run seminars of Advanced Tactical Training at Starfleet Academy; and I have a great deal of experience in fighting against impossible odds."
"You can try," Garibaldi answered with a shrug, "although I can't tell if he's gonna accept. I hope he will, but I don't know him the way I used to know Sinclair – and he won't listen to me the way Sinclair did… well, sometimes."
"But not always, did he?" Chakotay asked, with an understanding twinkle in his eye. That was the eternal woe of people in the second line of command; something he, too, knew all too well.
"Not always; actually, more often not," Garibaldi admitted. "But at least he listened, even if he went off to do the direct opposite afterwards. The only one Sheridan listens nowadays is Delenn."
"Then you should reach him through her," Chakotay suggested.
Garibaldi gave him a baleful look. "You're kidding, right? Have you ever tried to make a Minbari listen? That bonecrest isn't the only reason they're called boneheads, you know."
"I've heard similar statements concerning Vulcans all my life," Chakotay replied with a shrug. "Or Klingons. Or even Bajorans, who can be maddeningly stubborn sometimes. But when you take a closer look you'll see that they are just people, like everyone else: good and bad, valiant and cowardly, stupid and wise… depending on what they have to face. As long as they are on your side, you shouldn't give up the effort to try reasoning with them."
"Is that what you do?" Garibaldi asked doubtfully.
"That's what I try," Chakotay corrected, "unless I'm dealing with Torres. Or with Paris. Them, I simply threaten. That's faster and more efficient in their case."
They both laughed, then Garibaldi made an apologetic gesture. "I'll need to go back to these guys in a moment, Commander. Have you heard anything about the… interviewing of your houseguest? I thought it would be done right after Delenn's inauguration, but it has been eleven days already…"
"We've been waiting for Ms Alexander to get better," Chakotay explained. "It's clear that our… guests won't say anything voluntarily, and Tuvok put his foot down concerning a forced mind-meld. He did it last time – extremely unwillingly, I must add – to get you people out alive from Grey 17, but he adamantly refuses to do so again. That's a very strong cultural taboo with Vulcans and is considered on the same line as physical rape."
"They're right about that," Garibaldi said, remembering the times when telepaths had simply intruded his mind without asking permission. Then he frowned as the whole statement made click. "Wait a minute, things like that happen with Vulcans, too? I thought they were all cold and restrained and stuff."
"It's very rare," Chakotay admitted, "but as I said, they're just people, like everyone else. And they're a violent people, in the heart of their hearts. That's why they undergo all that steel-hard discipline voluntarily. Because they know all too well how much they need it."
"And still…" Garibaldi trailed off uncertainly.
"They're calm and disciplined as a people, "Chakotay clarified. "There are always individuals who can't quite grow up to social expectations, though. Or those who've simply gone mad for some reason. As I said: it's extremely rare, but yes, such things do happen. Even on Vulcan. Not that you'd have anything to fear from our resident Vulcans," he added smiling. "They're all fairly stable. Starfleet screens its future members very carefully before accepting them; and T'Ral has been a close acquaintance of mine for years. I'd vouch for all three of them without a second thought."
"Well if that isn't a relief," Garibaldi said sarcastically, making the other man understand that while he was grateful for the saving of his life, he still didn't know them well enough to trust them unconditionally – if, indeed, he was capable of such trust towards anyone else but Sinclair. "Look, I really have to…"
Chakotay smiled. "You really have to return to your work, I know. And I'm expected in the MedLabs. Good day, Mr. Garibaldi. I'll see you aboard Voyager, soon."
The MedLabs were a welcome contrast to the hectic activity at Customs; they were calm, quiet and reasonably well-lit, which seemed to be a rare thing on Babylon 5. Chakotay wondered why. Starfleet space stations were, as a rule, as brightly illuminated as Starfleet ships – with the notable exception of Deep Space Nine, that is. Until now, he'd always dismissed the darkened look of DS9 as a result of oppressive Cardassian architecture. Now he began to wonder whether it was a typical trait for frontier stations, where resources had to be used with more care than in the heart of the Federation.
In any case, he found the room of Marcus Cole a reasonably pleasant one. The Ranger himself still looked like Death warmed over, but considering what he'd been put through during his fight with the older, much stronger Minbari Alyt, that was not surprising.
Neither was the presence of Voyager's very own Harry Kim, who'd asked permission to visit his newfound friend less than an hour earlier. He'd even brought his clarinet, in case Marcus would feel like listening to some music, but was not currently playing. His instrument in his hand, he was busily staring daggers at the Ranger's other visitor.
It was a young Minbari in full Warrior Caste regalia, which meant that he was wearing black on black… a fairly forbidding presence, despite his youthful face. Said face already wore the arrogant expression of self-proclaimed superiority so typical for Minbari warriors – at least according to Captain Sheridan who'd given the command staff of Voyager a crash course on the Warrior Caste, right after Delenn's inauguration.
It was unpleasantly familiar to the expression Chakotay had seen on the face of Cardassian soldiers. As if the entire universe would belong to them by birthright, and everyone else ought to bend to their will. Like that young Gul who'd used to run the Lazon Two labour camp – until the bomb Ken Dalby had so carefully placed exploded into his face, blowing it away, together with that smug expression.
"Arrogant pup!" Chakotay murmured, not even sure if he meant the now dead Cardassian or the young Minbari warrior at Marcus' bedside.
"Quite," the warm voice of Lillian answered in agreement, and the lady doctor came to stand next to him, their hands brushing briefly. "but you must forgive him. Being the heir and nephew of Alyt Neroon, current head of the Star Riders Clan and once a member of the Grey Council that used to be the ruling body of Minbar, isn't an easy fate. Especially for someone as young as Rastenn is."
"How do you know?" Chakotay asked with a frown.
"That he's young?" Lillian clarified. "Look at his bonecrest: it's shorter than that of fully adult warriors, which means he's still growing – and so is his headbone."
"Like the antler of a Terran deer?"
"Exactly. Lennier explained it to us when we realized that his bone is still growing, too. It's an interesting phenomenon, actually."
"I'll take your word for it," Chakotay shrugged. "However, I meant where do you know so much about the boy's family background?"
Lillian smiled. "He's been telling about it – to Marcus, that is – for days. Apparently, Alyt Neroon has come to the conclusion that Marcus is id'Minbari…"
"A human with a Minbari soul," Lillian explained calmly. "Minbari strongly believe in reincarnation, and when their numbers began to diminish, for a while they were greatly concerned about the fate of those seemingly lost souls. Until they realized," she gave the word proper emphasis to signalize that she didn't really believe all this, "that Minbari souls were reborn in humans."
"Well, that seems a bit… far-fetched," Chakotay said.
Lillian shrugged. "Their esoteric solution to a purely mathematic problem, I guess," she said. "We should be grateful for it, though. It saved our entire race, after all."
"How that?" Chakotay was more than a little bewildered.
"Minbari are not allowed to kill other Minbari," Lillian explained. "There hasn't been a murder case on Minbar since Valen's Ban was declared – which was a thousand years ago, give or take a few, I'm told. So, since they mustn't kill other Minbari, and since they somehow discovered that some humans have Minbari souls…"
"They called off the entire war on the brink of an overwhelming victory, just to avoid killing their own by accident," Chakotay finished, putting the random pieces of information he'd heard and read so far together.
Lillian nodded. "According to Dr. Franklin, who knows a lot more about these things than most of us, it was a Religious Caste decision. The warriors weren't told the reason, and some of them still can't forgive that they had to surrender to an already beaten enemy. As a former member of the Grey Council, Alyt Neroon was told, of course – but I don't think he truly believed it; not until Marcus challenged him to a fight to the death."
"Yes, I remember his speech in front of the assembled congregation," Chakotay said. "He seems to be an honourable man, with strong principles. Unfortunately, such people often cause a lot more harm than simple criminals."
"Simple criminals are opportunistic and value their own hide more than anything else," Lillian agreed. "Men with strong principles often sacrifice more for the case, whatever that might be, than it is worth."
"It all comes down to measure and discretion, I guess," Chakotay said thoughtfully. "Anything can cause great harm if driven to the extreme… even valour."
Lillian laughed. "You're in a very philosophical mood today."
"It happens after a spirit walk," Chakotay replied with a shrug.
Lillian's eyes widened in surprise.
"You practice the spirit walk?" she asked.
"You know this practice?" he asked back.
She shook her head. "Only from hearsay. But I'd like to learn more. Are you allowed to talk about it?"
"Not about things that happen during my own sessions, no," Chakotay answered. "But I can teach you how to find your own path to the spirit world if you're really interested."
"I'm not sure," Lillian said a bit reluctantly. "Is that even allowed? Or are you breaking some religious taboo?"
"The spirit world is open to everyone, regardless if they are of our tribe or not," Chakotay said. "I'd gladly share the experience with you… although once I've guided you over the threshold, you'll have to find your way alone."
"I'd like to give it a try," Lillian admitted. "I've always been interested in different spiritual teachings. I'm just… well, a little afraid, that's all. I've never done anything like this."
"There's nothing to fear in the spirit world," Chakotay said quietly. "But you don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with. Some of my brothers never even tried. My oldest sister, on the other hand, is the spiritual leader of our people. Each person is different, and all have to find their own path."
"How many siblings do you have again?" Lillian asked.
They'd briefly touched the topic before, but never went into detail. The loss of his family still weighed heavily on Chakotay's soul, and he found it hard to talk about them. Now, though, he felt the sudden urge to share his memories with Lillian.
"I'm the seventh of ten children and have seven brothers and two sisters," he said. Then a thought occurred to him. "When do you go off-duty? We could have dinner in my quarters and talk about family. I don't have many pictures, but a few have survived our adventures; I'd like to show them."
Lillian tilted her head to the side, her large, coffee-brown eyes laughing.
"Is that an invitation?" she asked teasingly.
Chakotay pretended to think, although it was really hard not to laugh.
"Sounded like one to me," he finally answered, flashing his dimples at her.
Lillian closed her eyes, pretending to be blinded by his killer smile, and bowed playfully. "Then I accept," she said. "I'll go off-duty at seventeen-hundred… or so I hope. Give me half an hour to hit the shower, and I can be over at your place around six o'clock. Would that suffice?"
"I have the day off, so time doesn't really matter," Chakotay replied. "I'll have a briefing with the captain in two hour's time, but after that, I'm all yours."
"Promises, promises," she teased, but her eyes were still laughing. "Now, go and visit Marcus before that starring match between his other visitors would escalate into something more… physical. I've got enough work here as it is."
Commander Susan Ivanova reached C&C some ten minutes after the official beginning of her duty shift – not that it would have been her fault. G'Kar had waylain her on her way to work, trying to persuade her of the necessity of assigning one of his Narn warriors to each telepath that got shipped out to the warships taking on patrol duty.
It was a fairly… exhausting conversation. G'Kar could talk a Pak'ma'ra into eating vegetables on a good day, and Ivanova's argument that the safety of the telepaths had been guaranteed didn't persuade him at all. He seemed to have come to the conclusion that only with Narn bodyguard would they be really safe, because the Narns would be willing to go into great danger and to sacrifice themselves if they had to, knowing that in turn they would serve their own people.
"If the symmetry were any more perfect, I should think one of us would break into tears," he'd ended his argument passionately.
By the end of the discussion Ivanova had in truth been close to break into tears – although for an entirely different reason. Those would have been tears of frustration, not those of a soul deeply touched. She hadn't been looking forward for today's duty shift to begin with, and the argument with G'Kar had just been the last straw that broke the camel's back.
She preferred to work in a tightly controlled environment, with a clear command structure. With people who already knew what she expected from them and what they could do without getting their heads bitten off. Yet today she'd have to endure one of Voyager's engineering teams who were going to check the entire comm system for bugs and illegal access nodes and whatever other means Night Watch might have found to spy on them.
Ivanova hated having strangers in C&C, but even she had to admit that Voyager's technicians were currently the only ones whom they could trust unconditionally. The only ones who certainly weren't affiliated with EarthGov, the Shadows, the Centauri, the Minbari Warrior Caste, or any one of the dozen or so other forces that might want to gain access to Babylon 5 for their own shady purposes.
Plus they had the superior technology that might find things her own techs would never even think of. So, it was a necessary thing – even if she didn't like it. At all.
"We won't interfere with their job in any way," she told her crew in a tone that made clear that it was more than just a suggestion. "We'll do our work and they'll do theirs. Lieutenant Corwin, you'll be our liaison. Should they have any questions, you'll answer them. Other than that, it will be business as usual. Am I understood?"
"Yes, Commander," the crew of day shift chorused demurely, and Ivanova slumped into the command chair.
This was going to be a very long shift.
Twenty minutes later the door opened, and the collective jaws of day shift hit the floor with an almost audible thud. Including Ivanova's own.
She'd expected the volatile chief engineer of Voyager to send a colourfully mixed team – after all, half the crew was made up of various alien races. She hadn't expected, however, a life-sized Barbie doll walking into C&C on such high heels that would make walking a deadly peril for everyone else, wearing a silver-coloured, form-hugging jumpsuit that left nothing to the imagination. Absolutely nothing.
With the sophisticated cranial implant above one brow and the strange exoskeleton covering her right hand, she looked like one of those love-bots featuring really bad holovids, born from the adolescent fantasies from certain male screenwriters. Only that she managed to transmit the cold threat of breaking anyone's nose who'd be stupid enough to approach her without invitation.
She was accompanied by one of those pointy-eared Vulcan people – and a fairly young one at that, by the looks of him – and a squarely-built alien with blue skin and a bald head with a bifurcated ridge running down the centre of his face. Ivanova remembered that those aliens were called Bolians; she'd already met a female one when visiting Voyager, although how an outsider would tell the genders from each other was a puzzle.
The Barbie doll ignored the salivating males around her and swayed over to Ivanova, looking at her with wide, very blue, very doll-like eyes.
"Are you the one currently in command of this facility?" she asked, blithely ignoring any such social niceties as greetings. Her voice, too, was cold and detached.
Ivanova nodded. "I'm Commander Ivanova, second-in-command of the station, yes. And you would be…?"
"Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One," Barbie told her matter-of-factly. "You may call me Seven of Nine. We're here to check your communications system for possible external manipulations. Ensign Vorik and Crewman Chell will be assisting me."
"I've assigned Lieutenant Corwin to show you everything you might need to see," Ivanova replied waving closer the young man who'd recovered enough to close his mouth. "The others will continue with their work as always," she added in a warning tone that promised dire consequences, should that not happen.
Several still gawking technicians hurriedly vanished behind their consoles.
Seven of Nine nodded in a completely unperturbed manner. Perhaps she was already used to the overly hormonal reactions to her presence. Or perhaps she didn't realize the effect at all. Interpersonal stuff didn't seem to be her forte.
"That would be sufficient," she said; then she turned to a suddenly beet red David Corwin. "Show me the way," she ordered.
Having finished dispatching the telepaths to their respective ships, Garibaldi returned to his office to check the files of all those security officers who'd joined Night Watch and had been sent away from Babylon 5. He congratulated himself for not having erased those files – at least this way they could have an educated guess whom they would have to look for.
"You really think they'd sent us back our own people? Well, our former people," Officer Lou Welch corrected himself hurriedly. "Wouldn't it be easier to smuggle in people we don't know and so wouldn't spot in a crowd?"
Garibaldi shook his head. "They might blend in better, but they wouldn't know the station as well as someone who'd served here for years. Jack, Rishi and the others could have gotten everywhere as long as they kept a low profile.
"True enough," Lou Welch admitted sourly. "Do we know how many of our former colleagues," he emphasized the word to express his disgust more clearly, "might have returned to wreak havoc on the station?"
"Not yet," Garibaldi admitted with a frustrated sigh. "We know that Armstrong must be still around somewhere; and that civilian who used to be Ivanova's friend but turned out to be a Home Guard representative."
"Malcolm Biggs?" Lou Welch had been already aboard during Sinclair's command and had the useful ability to remember every criminal they'd investigated in the last three years.
Garibaldi nodded. "Yeah, that one. Mr. Ayala says he was the one actually in charge of their base in Grey 17."
"You think those four dead in DownBelow, with their throats cut, also belonged to them?" Lou Welch asked. "It's unusual for terrorists to get involved in simple murder or other petty crimes."
"Oh, I don't think that was a simple murder case," Garibaldi said grimly. "Have you looked at their injuries closely?"
Lou Welch shook his head. People found with cut throats and without identicards in DownBelow weren't such a rare thing that he'd have paid the case special attention. Sad as it was, such things happened in semi-regular intervals there.
"Well, I have," Garibaldi said. They were… interesting, to put it mildly."
Lou Welch frowned. He couldn't find anything interesting on the corpses when he took a fleeting look at them. "In what way?"
"They had broken bones and heavy bruises," Garibaldi explained. "Also, the placing of the injuries was such that they'd cause great damage, to take the guys out quickly. The only weapon that can cause such injuries, given their form and position, is a Minbari fighting pike. I've seen enough such injuries during the war… and Marcus' bruises do look very similar."
"So, before he'd beat Cole to bloody pulp, Neroon had gone through DownBelow and started a random killing spree?" Lou Welch asked doubtfully.
"I don't think it was Neroon," Garibaldi said grimly. "He wouldn't have gone through DownBelow without his guards in attendance – this happened well before the fight with Marcus, so he wouldn't be on a secret mission, and his rank demands that he always have guards with him. Besides, he's something of a legend among his own people. He could have killed the whole pack without cutting their throats. The pike would have been enough for him – but not for a younger, less experienced warrior."
"But why would your hypothetical Minbari use a knife?" Lou Welch asked, clearly confused. "I've never heard that they'd fight with knives like the Centauri."
"They don't," Garibaldi said. "That was what confused me, too, when we found the corpses. The cuts were ragged; nothing like what a knife would make. So I went to Marcus and asked him. He's a pain in the ass, but he knows more about Minbari customs than any of us."
"And what did he say?"
"He said that Minbari only use knives for ceremonial purposes; doing otherwise would be dishonourable, and we all know that honour means everything to the boneheads."
"But those thugs had their throats cut," Lou Welch pointed out the obvious. "Does that mean our killer wasn't a Minbari, after all?"
"Oh, it was a Minbari all right," Garibaldi said with a grim smile. "He just didn't need a knife to cut those people's throats. He used his damned bonecrest."
It took Officer Welch a few moments before he could speak again.
"His bonecrest?" he all but squealed. "But isn't that thing… erm… sensitive or what?"
"No more than your teeth or nails are," Garibaldi grinned. "Lou, you didn't fall for that idiot legend about the 'horny bone' did you? It's what its name says: a bone, with the purpose to protect their skulls – and, as we've seen, to use it as a weapon if necessary." He sobered again. "That's why they're so hard to kill in hand-to-hand combat, you know. It requires a very hard blow to shatter that bone."
"But why would Night Watch want to kill a random Minbari?" Lou Welch asked. "What could they hope from that?"
"I doubt that our killer was chosen randomly," Garibaldi answered. "To kill four men with just a pike and his bonecrest, he had to be a warrior, and a well-trained one. I think he was chosen to nurture the mistrust and hatred of the Warrior Caste towards humans. To undermine the alliance between Babylon 5 and Minbar – perhaps even to help deepening the rift between the Warrior and the Religious Caste."
"And all that would be done by killing one warrior?" Lou Welch shook his head. "Sorry, chief, but it's just not bloody likely… as Marcus would say."
"It depends who that warrior is," Garibaldi said.
"But we've just ruled out Neroon…" Lou Welch trailed off, understanding finally beginning to dawn in his eyes. "Oh. I see now. Rastenn."
"He's been seen on Babylon 5, at least a week before Delenn's inauguration," Garibaldi said, "strangely enough, in the company of Vir, of all people. Then he suddenly disappeared, right after that bar fight with the Voyager crew involved. Why?"
"Either because he got into the spotlight, which he wasn't supposed to do, or because he ran into the thugs and killed them in self-defence," Lou Welch now had the full picture.
Garibaldi nodded. "Plus, since Lennier had known him for a few years, he had to be worried about his cover getting blown in any minute."
"So, what are we gonna do with him?" Lou Welch asked.
"Nothing," Garibaldi replied with a shrug. "Oh, I'm sure we could learn the details if we set Vir under a little pressure – someone had to help Rastenn clean up and get off the station unseen – but what good would it do to us? If those guys were Home Guard or Night Watch, which I'm sure they were, Rastenn did us a favour. Besides, as you said, it was self-defence."
"Are you sure about that?" Lou Welch clearly wasn't.
Garibaldi nodded. "A Minbari warrior never attacks without provocation, or so Marcus tells me. We're used to see them as blood-thirsty monsters, because of the war, but I bet Marcus knows them better. He's lived among them. Besides, why would a lone Minbari attack four armed men, even if they were just the usual scum of Down Below? It just doesn't make sense."
"So they've picked Rastenn because he's Neroon's nephew?"
"Not just his nephew, according to Lennier, but also his heir. Neroon's family is an old and well-respected one, apparently. And Neroon is famous for his hatred towards us. Killing his nephew might have sent him on the warpath again; at the very least, Minbar would have stopped supporting Babylon 5, which would be fatal for us."
"And in the worst case scenario?"
"The Warrior Caste would have sent those ugly warships of theirs to shoot us to atoms," Garibaldi said grimly. "That was how the war had begun all those years ago: with the death of a single important person. And it's in the nature of the boneheads that had they once started on a path, it's almost impossible to stop them. Even if it would cause their own deaths."
Lou Welch shuddered involuntarily. "That was a close call."
"Too close," Garibaldi agreed. "We're lucky that Rastenn had been trained so well – and that Neroon obviously didn't want to explain us what his nephew was doing here, disguised as a simple cook."
"Intel gathering?" Lou Welch guessed.
Garibaldi snorted. "What else? At least now he's doing it openly. And while we let him believe he's managed to fool us, we can keep a discreet eye on his activities."
Lou Welch looked at his boss with unveiled admiration.
"You're a sneaky bastard, Chief," he stated.
"That's my job and my personal talent," Garibaldi replied agreeably. Then he pulled a face as his comm link beeped. He activated the thing. "Garibaldi. Go," he barked.
"This is Morishi, Chief," came the answer. "You should come to Brown Sector, to the control room of the fusion reactors. There's something I'd like to show you.
"On my way," Garibaldi replied and deactivated the comm link. Then he exchanged grim looks with his aide.
Morishi was their bomb squad investigator. If he wanted to show him something, that could only have meant one thing.
He had found a bomb. Again.
After a moment of hapless rage, Garibaldi shook himself and made a mental checklist of all the things that needed to be done.
"I'm gonna take a look," he said. "Find Zack, Lou, and prepare everything for a possible evacuation of all the alien dignitaries, but don't do anything until I've seen what we are dealing with this time."