At 1943 hours, Havah Lassee entered the bunker at the training outpost on Proxima Three. Almost immediately afterwards, the sky fell. It happened so quickly that her only memories of the cataclysm were the sudden slamming of metal and cement down over her head, and spraying of water from the burst pipes surrounding her. The dust and smell of searing organic matter and building materials filled her lungs, as screaming filled her ears. She didnít know if it was hers or someone elseís. The world spun around her. Her head ached from a skull-cracking blow to the back of her head. She hadnít been crushed, she realized, as she slowly began resuming movement, wiggling fingers, toes, neck. Every sinew ached with the shock wave of force that had driven her to the ground. The sting of shrapnel, and the contusions on her back kept her conscious momentarily. She heard a sergeant yelling orders and soldiers moving, rushing to respond to cries for help. Then, she lost consciousness for an indeterminate amount of time. She awoke, imprisoned by fallen fragments of wall in a cell about a foot and a half tall and six feet long. Painfully, she stretched her left foot out against the rubble to see if it would give way. It did. She widened the aperture, and slowly wriggled out backwards on her stomach. About halfway, she froze.
Coarse alien voices were coming from a distance. She could only assume they were Minbari voices. The language was like none she had ever heard. Earth Force had known the Minbari had organized an assault on colony worlds and outposts, but it appeared that they had miscalculated the timing. Well, if those Minbari units were in eye-sight, she was probably just as dead if she slid back in, except she would die trapped, so she pushed the rest of her body out by her arms, sharp little pebbles digging into her cheek. From her belly she looked up. She couldnít see them, so she assumed for the moment that they couldnít see her. Like a lizard, she crawled behind a large crag towards the voices and peered from under the six-inch tall overhang and sized up the situation, clearing disheveled black hair out of her eyes with a finger. Her whole body was shaking with adrenaline and her senses were heightened. There was an odd sense of detachment, as though watching a screen on which remote events unraveled. She had been deployed to this post a couple of weeks ago for additional training after joining the Earth Force Marines a year or so earlier. And now, there was no more time for training. There they were.
Two of them, dressed in rough black uniform jackets that hung down to the middle of their legs. She had never seen a Minbari before, and the sight stirred some bizarre sense of déjà vu. It was dark, but the silhouette of their head-crests jutted at odd angles pointing to the sky from which they had come. The convolutions of bone looked rough, like a volcanic landscape. Although humanoid, their faces were undeniably alien, as though someone had taken a human face and sharpened the angles. Their eyes were piercing even through the gloom, scanning the horizon, preternaturally attuned to every fine motion. She breathed as softly as she could and waited for a bright idea, any idea. Before she could form any, the warriors dived for the ground and rolled, as bursts of fire blazed across her field of vision. They returned fire as they tumbled, and a cry of pain issued from behind twisted steel struts about ten feet away from her, poking from a cracked toppled wall like broken bones. In a blur of tan and red, an injured Marine charged the closer of the two soldiers, swinging a broken gun in a melted fist. The nearer of the two Minbari soldiers floated fluidly to his feet, grabbed the man and swung him around, slicing his throat with a hooked dagger that had materialized in his black-gloved hand. He sneered and let the man drop onto a pile of debris. The Minbari slipped around the wall and pummeled into another hidden soldier. She heard the manís death gurgle. The wall shook and shed crumbs of concrete with the impact of the humanís body. Her heart lurched as they began searching the perimeter for more guerrillas. Another Marine rushed them.
Masked by the sound of the scuffle, she crept back to the pile of debris she had escaped from, now a hiding place, and began to shove her way in, but they were too close. She pulled a chunk of rubble on top of her bleeding head and went limp just before they approached, playing dead. She waited as her air ran out. An alien voice rasped over her and a there was a faint whiff of ozone. A boot toe nudged the cement block off of the side of her head. Then it drove into her side, cracking at least one rib. She screamed in blinding agony. The soldier grabbed her by the hair at the base of her scalp. Her hand clawed at his trachea, and her heels drove into his knees. He yowled with pain and shot a blast into the left side of her chest and dropped her. She didnít move, smoke curling from the hole in her chest. He fired another shot, just to make sure the vermin was dead. It hit the same scorched wound. She didnít even flinch. He left.
She returned to consciousness some time later, and wished she hadnít. Her chest was on fire, and she gasped for air. Her hands crept up and found an edge of blistered skin. It burned wildly and she withdrew her fingers, shivering from the cold that was gripping the rest of her body. He had missed her heart, but she was sliding into shock. She gazed at the charred sky and charnel silence, surrounded by the sucking furnace sounds of the fires, the wind, and the whisper of dust. Thoughts played through her mind absurdly as she lay fighting for breath. What if they were still here? It was clear that she was going to die, now. What was left to her? She hadnít even tried to oppose them, and there was no chance now, unless they were still here, but what could she do to them, in shock, dying. There had to be a way. Having a mission seemed to make it easier to move. She climbed to feet that no longer seemed to be attached to her body, choking and tasting iron. If she found grenades and set them off, then more reinforcements would be sent, or the Minbari would just send blasts from orbit. She would have to find a way of attacking them surreptitiously. Dust burned in her eyesÖ Dust. It was coating her nose and lungs. She arduously filled pocket after pocket of her jumpsuit with dust and coarse pebbles.
As she surveyed the landscape, there was nothing but empty wreckage and corpses. Iím all alone. She shook off the grief that welled up as suddenly as an earthquake, and wiggled into what used to be a supply room and took a PPG with as many caps as she could cram into her suit, and handfuls of detonators. Creeping from block to block, scanning around her for any motion or sound, she came in sight of a scattered unit of Minbari. They didnít see her, as she struggled to control the stridor in her lungs, which sounded like a roar in her ears. She set a detonator and threw it. It popped nearby. Two of the soldiers went to investigate leaving two behind. She set another one and threw it directly behind them, praying that they did not see the trajectory from which it came. They jumped at the sound behind them, and then drew their guns. As they turned back around, sensing her motion in front of them, she darted forward hurling dust, glass and debris in their eyes. She dived and fired and threw more dust into the faces of the third and fourth soldiers returning from her earlier distraction, and kept firing. A bolt sizzled by her ear and she smelled burnt hair. One of them had gotten off a wild shot despite the dust in his eyes, nose and throat. But she had peppered the Minbari with devastating shots to the head and neck. They could alert no one now.
She moved on, cough riddled with blood. Her muscles trembled, barely obeying her, shivering involuntarily with the loss of blood to her skin and extremities. There wasnít much time now. She spied the perimeter guards from around a corner, and after staring for a few moments despairingly, an idea came to her. Picking her way around crackling fires, she revisiting the supply area, and pulled a breathing unit from the piles of rock. The face mask was smashed but she pulled off the breathing canisters and stuffed them down her jumpsuit. The tracking control building was nearby and the storage facility underneath it. The Minbari had been aiming for astrometrics. The door to the storage room had wedged open, and she squeezed inside, clambering over piles of scrap. Faint light illuminated the liquid nitrogen tanks against the back wall, and she filled the breathing canisters and stuck them back in her jumpsuit.
She doubled back to a dead female Minbari who had seemed close to her size and build. Laboriously, she pulled off the heavy black coat, smelling of ozone and some kind of spicy musk, shirts, trousers and boots. She took off her jumpsuit and put on the femaleís gear, transferring the canisters, and detonators to the Minbari gear. The PPG she left in her Earth Force-issue jumpsuit. Their guns were more powerful. She pulled her tangled mass of hair into two bunches and tied them in two Asian top-knots at the crown of her head, wincing with the stabbing pain shooting through her lungs and chest with every movement. Arms shaking, she pulled the hood of the coat up, hoping that it would fill the same spots as the head-crest. She looked a bit like the woman whose clothes she was wearing, light skin with a slight olive tint. Although the woman had had hazel eyes, and hers were coal-black, their facial structure was similar, right down to the odd bone shelf running from the tips of her eyebrow ridges to the nasal curve just above the bridge. Of course, the woman had no eyebrows. But none of these things were immediately noticeable with the hood pulled up. The edge should have thrown her eyebrows into shadow. She nudged the woman over on her back and froze. Low on her back, right down the middle, starting at about the fifth lumbar vertebrae and extending down into the soldierís undergarments was a thin sky-blue streak similar to one on her own back, a peculiar marking that seemed too symmetrical to be a birthmark, like a dorsal seam. Because of the strange blue color, Havah had gotten a tattoo of a blue morpho butterfly around it, with the marking as the body. The color matched that on the womanís head at the edge of the bone crest. She shook off another peculiar sensation. Her vision started to blur and a fuzzy darkness kept trying to creep in from the edges of her sight. Not yet! She fought, just a little longer.
She crept back to the perimeter guards around one of their troop transports. The ribbed ship was elegant for a transport. It reminded her of a sea-skate or a ray, with fins out to either side, resting in a current of dust. She took in as deep a breath as she could manage and felt her ancestorsí fire in her veins and behind her eyes, and cursed silently. The only prayer she remembered was the Shma. It would do as well as any. "Shma yisroel Adonai elohenuÖ" she whispered, straightened her back, taking on the proud stride of her people, those she had been born to, and those she was raised by, which could have been mistaken by the watching guards she approached, as the confident stride of a Minbari soldier.
One of them addressed her in Minbari, a strong resonant voice. Why does Shurinn have her hood up like that, something seems wrong, the guard realized a second before she laid a searing energy bolt from a Minbari gun into his chest, and one into each of the other three guards surrounding the transport, as they turned towards the shot, faces in alarm at the flash in her dark eyes. She continued to fire until they stopped moving. There was no one in the transport. With unbelievable struggle and pain she could feel even through the haze of shock, she dragged their bodies one-by-one across the debris and away from the ship, burying them among piles of concrete. Any remaining soldiers would have to look for them. She couldnít let it be obvious that the ship had been compromised. She limped back to the ship, clutching her side, feeling an unpleasant gurgle in her lung. Every time she took breath, it was like breathing powdered glass. She found the feed valve for the gas tanks. It was cold to the touch with the slurry of deuterium inside. She pulled out the breathing canisters and fed them into the valve, closed it and walked away. She found nine more groups of soldiers, dressed in her Minbari gear and killed them all, then returned to watch the ship from under a chunk of wall, like a by-stander drawn to a terrible highway accident. Three warriors approached, saw no one standing guard and turned back around, guns drawn, surveying the scenery around them. Two fanned out searching through debris for bodies, and one cautiously entered the ship to contact the mother ship waiting in orbit. The two returned, carrying the bodies of their fallen comrades, faces rigid with anger. They glared across the waste, eyes passing over where she was, and then they entered the ship. The two left again to search for parties whom they did not yet realize were not coming, and returned some time later, ashen-faced and fists clenched, carrying each a body. A punctuated conversation ensued between the body-bearers, and the one who had stayed at the ship. Havah watched, not understanding anything but that they were leaving, and almost sobbed with relief. But now she was alone, with the holocaust, and freezing chill that was claiming her limbs and the creeping darkness that clouded her vision. I donít want to die! Iím not ready yet! Help! She faded, crouched behind a building heap, as the transport exploded in orbit and little streamers of fire coursed through the atmosphere, illuminating the darkness behind her eyelids.
A couple hours later, a Human ship, having learned of the attack, on their recall to Earth, stopped to pick up survivors. Beneath the topmost layer of atmosphere, the air was murky with dust where the sky should be. Acrid smoke puffed and wisped around the flyers, like bizarre plumes from a sea of witchesí cauldrons.
"What the hell?! She's Human! Get her to Med Lab." She heard someone say somewhere over her. "Do you think she's a deserter?" NO! WaitÖIím alive! Blazing pain gripped her entire body. She screamed in her mind, realizing with dismay that she was wearing the uniform of a Minbari soldier, but her voice wouldnít work. There were a couple of EMTs standing over her, shining a light in her face. "Thereís no way of knowing what happened until she can talk. Get her to the lab, sheís not going anywhere." Even with the horror of what she knew they must be thinking, English was still the most beautiful language she had ever heard. Maybe theyíll listen, she thought despairingly. And maybe Iím a super-model. Med Lab was eerily empty and subdued. There were the staff, and then about twenty or thirty soldiers with various levels of injury, some moribund, some recovering. But there were more corpses than patients. She listened, half-conscious, as they took a man with half of one leg missing, behind a cubicle, moaning dejectedly. Then the gurney lifted as she was carried into a cubicle, and faded again.
"I want three units of O-negative now! Sheís in shock! ... No, wait. What the devil?! Her blood type isn't compatible..." One look at the agglutination test told the doctor that her blood type was not Human.
"Get me three units of synthetic until I can figure out what the hell to give her! ... Get me a sample of Minbari blood! ... She's dressed as one of 'em, I got a bad feeling about this! ... Third degree burns to the upper lobe of the left lung. Some of the alveoli and bronchial tubes have been cauterized. Burns consistent with Minbari lasers, with scarring to the surrounding tissue. Her physiology and anatomy are extremely unusual." The doctor sealed the incision and ran his scanner down her body. "Look at this, her heart is on the right side. And her bone density... is at least twice that of a normal Human." He found the contusion at the back of her head. "Remarkable."
When she opened her eyes, dull pain gripped her again, but it was confirmation that she was alive, and would stay that way, at least for a while, until the man facing her now decided to space her. The cold eyes of the captain stared into hers. She was cuffed to the bed, and she could see two guards facing her. Her stomach turned as she realized how much trouble she was in. Oh crap! She thought. They wonít believe me, why should they?!
"Private Havah Lassee?"
"Yes, sir!" She said weakly.
"You are under arrest. I suggest you answer my questions thoroughly."
"Of course, sir. Please let me explain, sir!" She tried to sit up, but couldnít move her hands enough to help her aching body sit upright. She recounted everything that had occurred until she had been found. After she finished, he just stared at her incredulously, obviously not believing her.
"You expect me to believe that yarn, Private! None of the reports Iíve seen so far show that weíve had success against the Minbari in hand-to-hand combat, or extensive ground-fighting, and you expect me to believe that you played dress-up and waltzed up to them and blew them away, as easy as pie?! Do you think I am that stupid, or are you merely in the grip of some fantasy!?"
"Sir, nothing about it was easy! And, if you donít believe me, then have me scanned. Iím telling you the truth. I would never betray Earth!" She was shocked by her own brash tone, convinced that he would just kill her right on the bed under the eyes of the guards and the medical staff alike. The doctor hovered nearby, refusing to leave the room of his patient. But the captain was too preoccupied to kill her, or pay any mind to the doctor.
"Why donít you have a Human blood type, Private?"
"I'm a chimera, sir. My mother was Human, and my father was some other race, I don't know what. They were both captured by other aliens. They were experimented on. 'ím that experiment, sir. They escaped and my mother was pregnant. She didn't survive the pregnancy, and I think my father is dead, I don't even think he ever knew about me."
"What race were they, the aliens who captured them? What race was your father?"
"I donít know what race they were, only that they looked different from my father. My adopted parents told me about it, but they didnít know much, just what my mother told them before she died."
"And what did they look like?"
"I donít know, sir. I swear I donít know."
He turned on his heel and stalked out. She let her head fall to the pillow, wanting to cry, but too tired. Too tired to even pull at the restraints. Her lung and ribs burned. The captain returned an hour later with a telepath, his worn blue eyes searching her face for a reaction. "You stated earlier, Private, that you would submit to a scan, in the interest of truth. Are you still willing?"
"Yes sir." Her stomach lurched again at the sight of the black gloves. She had never been scanned, but she had heard stories. The thought nauseated her, but it was better than being thought a traitor. The woman sat down next to Havahís bed, and put her hand reassuringly on Havahís shoulder. Havah wanted to shake it off, but just looked back at her.
"Try not to resist, or the scan will be uncomfortable. The scan will not harm you,, and it will be easier for you if you relax. You may experience a headache after the scan, but this is minor."
Thanks, Havah thought, not at all reassured, as she watched the womanís professional smile gleam. A knife-like thought sliced into her brain sifting through experiences that Havah re-lived as though they were being sucked out of her in a whirlpool. And then a vise-like ache gripped the circumference of her skull. Minor headache?! She thought, minor in comparison to a melted lung and broken ribs maybe.
"Miss Sheffield, my office please."
The telepath left with the captain, casting her a warm glance.
The captain strode in, about a half an hour later while Havah was staring at the ceiling, wondering what would happen to her now.
"Yes, sir?" She didnít even have the energy to move.
The captain motioned one of the guards to undo the restraints. She just lay there, staring at him, to tired and hurt to care if he was offended.
"The telepath confirmed what you told me, and so did a couple of survivors. One was another private. He saw one of your attacks and heís already told what he saw to half my ship. Frankly, itís an unbelievable story, but, well, the evidence is there. And if you are part alien, then itís possible that you could have had an advantage on those warriors. The doctor tells me that if your heart had been where a Humanís is supposed to be, youíd be dead right now. Youíre very lucky."
"Yes, sir." She hadnít missed the innuendo within the comment Ďsupposed to be,í but he was right. At least she was alive, and not under arrest.
"Well, you have recovering to do, Private. By the way, it was a brave thing you did, and I will make a recommendation that you receive commendations for your actions, when we return."
"Yes sir. Thank you sir!"
He cracked a tiny smile and left again.
She left Med Lab five days later, since her physiology seemed to be returning her strength rather quickly, and she was more likely to die of boredom than her sore lung. She was quartered with a squad pilot. She saluted numbly to the woman.
"Hello maíam, thanks for sharing your space with me."
"No problem, you ok?"
"Just tired, maíamÖreally tired."
The grim-faced woman nodded. "Itís only going to get worse from here. They are headed for a direct assault on Earth, where weíre headed. You should rest while you can," she pointed to the extra cot.
"Thank you, maíam." She collapsed gratefully onto the offered cot and fell almost immediately asleep for several hours. They were three days away from Earth with the Minbari fleet hours ahead of them.
When she awoke, hungry, it seemed everyone on the ship had heard about her retaliation on the base. News like that seemed to speed through a verbal jumpgate. As she walked through the hallways, she thought people nodded at her here and there.
In the mess, a tall sturdy officer with cropped corn-silk hair approached her table and asked, "Youíre Private Lassee?"
He motioned for her to follow him. Bringing her meal with her, she entered the officersí mess. Their meals didnít appear to be any more appealing.
"I'm Lieutenant Jenkins, I heard what you did! Thatís pretty amazing!" He beamed. She returned a shy smile.
"This is Lieutenant Garcia, Chin, and Donaldson. Sheís our squad leader." He indicated the sand-colored woman whose quarters she was sharing.
"Good job, Private Lassee! Can I call you Havah? Thatís a very interesting name."
"Of course maíam. Thank you maíam. It means Eve."
"My name is Jenna, and this lummox is Ron," she gestured to the blonde who was still smiling approvingly at her, "Jesus, everyone calls him Geezus." A handsome Hispanic man flashed her a bright toothy grin. "And James." A tall lanky Asian man nodded.
Geezus was cute. She glanced at him and he gave her another dashing grin. "Hey Chiquita, you did awesome! POW, POW, POW! Throwing it all in their eyes, kickiní all the boneheadsí asses! Man, I wish I could have been there to see it! Twenty-seven of them on the ground and the rest in the air, shootiní them with their OWN GUNS, DAMN girl!" He chucked her on the shoulder with his fist. "Remind me never to piss you off ok?! HaHA!" He winked at her and stuck a forkful of corn in his mouth.
Chin smiled, his black hair bristling at his temples. "You were in training there?"
"Yes sir. They sent me from boot camp."
"What kind of training?"
"Tracking, long-range weaponry, nukes, pulse-cannons and stuff like that."
"Tracking... you ever flown?" They all looked at her with interest.
"Iíd started going out tandem, and then took a couple of flights solo with the tech sergeant going point. The day before they hit. Thursday."
"Have you ever considered Special Forces?" Jenkins piped in.
"Yeah, although I havenít decided whether I want to go career or not. I joined because of the war." Her face was turning red as she spoke.
Garcia laughed, "Whatchoo mean, you donít want this haute cuisine for the rest of your life?" He hoisted a huge wad of gray meat up on his knife. "Ay, nothing wrong with that, man!"
Donaldson said, "What do you think youíll do after the war?"
Havah pondered, "I donít know, I really have no clue what I want to do with my life. I like mythology, but I have no idea how I would get a job in it, unless I was a professor."
"How old are you?"
"Dios Mio!" Garcia interjected.
Jenkins chuckled. "I bet the Minbari would love knowing that they had their butts kicked by a teenager practically... No offense."
She grinned, "None taken sir." He didnít look all that much older than her really, none of them did, except Donaldson.
"Did you like flying?"
"I loved it, I wish I could do more of it, but thatís probably a slim chance now."
His eyes twinkled, but the mood darkened.
"Not so slim," Donaldson said somberly, "Weíve lost a number of pilots already and the attack on Earth is going to be bad. We may wind up accepting volunteers from anyone with any experience who can steer a ship. Do you plan to volunteer?"
Havah decided not to mention the nature of her injuries in sick bay, and hoped they wouldnít ask. It was unlikely theyíd make that offer if they knew thereíd been injuries to her lung or head, or maybe the situation was too desperate to matter much...
"Yes maíam, if there is a need I do."
"Well, I think it could be arranged with the commander for your training to be continued here until we approach Earth."
"Thank you maíam!" She gaped at Donaldson, stunned.
"Iíll get back to you as soon as something can be set up."
"Welcome to the air, baby!" Garcia shook her hand vigorously. They finished eating and she returned with Donaldson to her quarters.
Donaldson arranged it as she had said. Havah took shifts in the simulation units, training with Geezus, while the ship rushed towards Earth. There was no time left for real skin-dancing exercises. It would have slowed the ship down too much to wait for the Star Furies. Time for Earth was running out. So they practiced inside the ship. In the meantime, this was more fun than she remembered having for weeks, years maybe, almost enough to forget why she was getting this chance. Geezus had taken to calling her Skywalker. Havah had to suppress a giggle every time Geezus responded with "Not bad Skywalker." Or "You have grown powerful young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet!" Or the best, "HawHoooooo,í he dragged a wheeze out of the com-link, "Young Skywalker, you are no match for the POWAH of the DARK SIDE!" And he barrelled into a dizzying roll. She tried to mimic him but lost the roll in peals of laughter and flamed out. Once she regained control of the virtual craft, they tried again, and again.
That night she dreamed strangely, fragments really. There was a dark man in a Star Fury, heavy well-defined eyebrows, strong jaw line, dark eyes the color of molasses, with a deep resonant voice. His aft engines had been hit and he was hurtling towards the biggest Minbari ship she had ever seen, a whale-gray leviathan spitting streams of blue fire from its snout. It stunned his craft and snared it, then drug it in like an angler fish drawing in prey. She shuddered and tried to scream to him through a heavy malaise. She knew this man, she knew him, his name started with J, Jesus, Jeffrey. Then he was gone and she was on a dark arid planet. Strange arachnids surrounded her. They seemed to shift in and out of vision and reality. They reminded her of bed-time after sneaking the horror movies her mother never let her watch, when she used to turn out the light and leap into bed from the door, afraid that if she got too close, a chitinous claw would reach out and grab her ankle. The creatures held back a small crying Minbari female child, and she could see an immature little head-bone, bobbing up and down as she sobbed, surrounded by twisted shadows. The girlís name was Kuraal. Serpentine warbling in her ear and all around her, told her that she had a choice. She could have the girl, they said, if she would go with them. It was for the best really, they said, she was meant for this, and the girl would live. Before they could speak any more soft implacable sounds, she snatched a dagger hidden in her trousers and plunged it into her throat, severing the main artery.
She awoke writhing on the little cot, clutching her throat, soaked in sweat.
"Havah, are you alright?"
"Yes sir, just had a bad dream," she replied shakily. She stared at the shifting shadows cast by the ceiling struts for the remainder of the night.
When she saw Geezus the next day, she couldnít help but feel anxious. She liked him. He was dark and handsome, the kind of man she was attracted to, and he always winked at her and joked around. That seemed like a small thing, and could easily be annoying from anyone else, but from him it was warm, even comforting. But she was a Marine, and he was a fighter pilot, and it was unlikely that he even had thought of her that way. They really had enough to think about right now. Still, they might only have another day left, and if they were all going to die anyway...
"I like you," she blurted, instantly wanting to sink into the floor.
"What was that, baby, Iím sorry, I had my head in this panel." He grinned at her.
"Um, nothing sir, I was just muttering to myself."
"Hey, what did I tell you, you donít have to call me Ďsirí all the time. When weíre training Iím just Geezus to you, or Lord Savior if you want, since Iím always saving your butt from crashing into an asteroid! And a very nice butt too, JUST KIDDING!" He chortled and clapped her on the back. "No seriously, youíve been doing great, letís go!" The moment had passed, and so had her courage. How could I have walked up to Minbari warriors and shot them point blank, and yet I canít talk to a cute boy without stuttering?! She sighed and put on her suit.
Earth was surrounded. These were the last days. Havah choked when she heard. And then the call came. Weíre too late! I survived this shit, only to watch my home destroyed. Thereís no place for me to go home to now! They arrived at the rear of an astronautic meat grinder. Things were far worse than "bad" as Jenna Donaldson had put it. The call was for ALL fighters capable of flying. The two women looked at one another in the hangar, for a couple seconds that they could spare. Donaldson nodded, "Good luck, Havah, just stay close."
"Yes, sir." She was more scared than she had ever been, her knees felt watery. At Proxima Three there had been no time for fear. Now there was just enough. Geezus winked at her, but his face was grim. "Geezus bless you, my child! Hehe, See you on the Dark Side, Skywalker!"
They pulled out of the dock and entered the fray.
"Gamma six, pull in!" The most inexperienced by far, Havah was flanked by Geezus and Chin. The Minbari were everywhere. The colossal ships she had seen in her dream were slicing through Hyperion-class cruisers as though they were paper mache boats, and the Star Furies were exploding and dissolving in all manner of ways. Any Star Fury caught in the beam of a war cruiser simply exploded with a red flash of oxygen. Swarms of little Minbari fighters, like ice minnows, slipped through space pummeling the Star Furies with crystal blasts of fire from triple gun-ports. They looked like sparkling stone tear-drops, and with every sparkle, an Earth fighter was destroyed. She thrust the pitch backward and jerked her craft up as a blast passed under the ship, and wagged the roll sideways as another came in from the side.
And then there were too many of them. Donaldson directed the team to split in two columns and separate before they could be flanked, but it was too late. And in a flash she was gone, Chin was gone, and most of the others. She gasped, realizing that she had stopped breathing, and then her breath came in heaves. "Stay on me, Skywalker!" Geezusís voice came through tinny. They bobbed and weaved and fired until an actinic beam cascaded through his tiny ship, the shock wave sending her into a wild roll backwards. Just like that. He was gone too. She couldnít breathe but she croaked "Damage report." Her forward thrusters were damaged, firing was damaged, engines were damaged. The poor ship was practically dead in space. What wasnít damaged was the sensor that told her that her ship was about to be fired on. Then it was encased in a shaft of light, a tractor beam. She was being pulled to one of the titans. There was nothing to do but watch the mechanical and human debris float past, like bizarre algae in a murky pond, what she could see through the film of light cast by the beam drawing her inexorably into the belly of the alien ship. What do I do now? I need a plan. The only thing she could think of was to come out attacking and take down as many as she could before they killed her. Or perhaps she could overload the system somehow and cause the Star Fury to explode. She pulled at panels, but Star Fury technology was not her specialty, and she didnít know how to overload it. And then she was in their dock. She kicked open the hatch and the warriors grabbed her. She felt a spray in her face, and the world faded to black.
She came to hazy consciousness surrounded by a beam of strong light, bound hand and foot to a device, probably an interrogation room by the feel of it. Did the Minbari speak English? But they werenít speaking at all, silent menacing shapes just out of reach of the illumination. One came forward in a voluminous woolen gray robe and stood in front of her face.
She howled at him, "BUTCHERS! I hope you burn in HELL!" She could taste iron again, and her lungs felt raw. She kept seeing scattered wreckage, knowing that Geezus and Donaldson and Chin, and another young fighter like the one sheíd seen in her dream were particles in the universe now, all because of a mistake. She had never been so angry in her life. There was no fear any more, just rage. She screamed the Shma at the top of her lungs, a blood-thirsty ululation. "SHMA YISROEL ADONAI ELOHENU ADONAI ECHAD! HEAR O ISRAEL THE LORD IS OUR GOD THE LORD IS ONE!" she went, and on and on, "VíCHARA AF ADONAI BACHEM VíATZAR ET! FOR THEN THE WRATH OF THE ETERNAL WILL BE ENKINDLED AGAINST YOU!" For the first time in years she completed the prayer, and her fury wasnít even close to being spent.
The Minbari merely stared. Something made her think it was a he, although he hadnít spoken. She didnít know why she was bothering to translate the words of the prayer. If they didnít understand English, what chance did they have of understanding Hebrew. She stood bound and panting having thrown not a single blow. They were reveling in her powerlessness. A female voice came from beyond the circle. The figure before her responded harshly in Minbari, a raspy voice from a gray hood. He held up a delicate instrument, an equilateral triangle of slender glass rods with a pyrite crystal in the center, anchored by a network of wire. Through the drug- and rage-induced haze she peered at it.
As if cued, a tiny spark kindled in the center of the crystal and suffused the fragile structure with a slight shimmer. There were muted exclamations and a frenetic murmur from the assembled silhouettes. The diminutive female spoke from just outside the circumference of light, shrouded in hood and robe. She pulled the hood back, but it was impossible to make out her features except for the outline of her crest. Her voice was imperious and strong but undeniably feminine. As the woman spoke, Havah began to feel another presence aside from the small crowd in the darkness. This heavy presence was also beyond her view. Then something touched her mind, searing her with the clarity of thought that it triggered. It was the dream again, the dream from the other night.
A careening Starfury with a deep angry muffled voice, "Not like this, not like thisÖ", and it was immobilized by a cascading tractor beam. She screamed a name, as the dream went on. Then the nightmare world materialized, the spiders, enveloping the crying Minbari toddler. Her round little eyes were cobalt blue and tear-swollen, her pudgy little thumb disappeared into her mouth. "TisheÖ"she sniffled plaintively, "mama". Do as we say and your daughter will live long and healthy, the shadows whispered like rustling leaves at her elbows and in the shivers of her spine. "KURAAAAAL!" Havah screamed, mired in horror and imposed slumber. Her daughter or her people. I will follow you into fire, I will follow you into darkness, I will follow you into death, her dream-self thought. She could not betray her teacher or her people, they had all trusted her. So did her daughter. The child was her world and she could not watch the spiders devour her daughter. Action formed before thought as she felt her hand drag the knife across her throat.
And the dream ended as it had before, with her writhing and gasping awake, but this time still bound to whatever device the aliens had strapped her to. The ominous presence was fading, like a passing lantern in a night forest.
What are you? She thought, Did you do this to me?
An electron does not question, it thought at her and vanished as if it had never been there.
What the hell does that mean? Were the Minbari even aware that it had been there? Maybe she had imagined it? The grey-cloaked crowd was in disarray. The male interrogator began yelling. She had no idea what heíd just said, but the earlier unflappable arrogance had been replaced with a tenuous note of uncertainty. He was shaken by something, something about her. A gray robe left, and a few moments later, a door across the room irised open sending a shaft of light briefly across the sea of shrouds, and the gray robe and another Minbari male entered. It was a telepath. She could tell by the way he approached her and by the intensity of his eyes. Almost immediately, he sliced into her mind before she had time to flinch away. Fighting against the intrusion only gave her a bone-crunching headache, as though her brain were about to explode. And it didnít do any good trying to struggle around the mass of presence that gripped her mind, only show her how truly helpless she was against him. Within seconds, she lived the entire nightmare again in fast-forward, and hated this intruder with every fiber. She felt him withdraw, hopefully soaked with her ill-will. His eyes were wide and startled. He turned towards the interrogator and said something in a tremulous voice, never taking his eyes off of her. He and the interrogator went back and forth for a moment, and the others gasped at something the telepath said. A brief discussion ensued. And then he sent a single thought at her, laced in respect, an apology.
Drop dead, and get the hell out of my goddamn head! She thought savagely at him, and I hope you can hear that too! She thought, far too furious to be pacified. He dropped his gaze to the floor.
The interrogator spoke, and whatever he said shocked the telepath who looked up briefly before casting his eyes downward. The telepath paused, and when he looked up at her again, there was chagrin in his face as he thought to her. I know you hate me and I do not blame you. I am afraid that you will hate me no less now for what I have to do. I am ordered to erase your memory, and I cannot disobey. But I give you my word that I will not harm you. Please forgive me and do not fight me in this, or it will be more painful. I do not wish this for you. It is the only way they will let you go. I am sorry. His regret washed through her. She eyed him stonily for a second, swallowing dread before the familiar psi-tongue slid into her mind. Instinctively, she hurled her mental will against it into the grip of another splitting headache, and was pushed aside into a gentle peaceful sleep.
As the Triluminary glowed, any hope Koplann had harbored for dismissing what they had seen earlier, vanished like the oxygen of a destroyed Human ship. Not another one, he thought. Delennís piping voice cut across his dismay, needling him. "You see! It was not just the first one, this is the ninth one we have tested with the same results! These are Minbari souls, there is no other explanation, unless you wish to pull their entire fleet aboard!ó"
He grimaced and glanced distastefully at the bound Human woman, who appeared to be mesmerized by the artifact. As he looked, she convulsed as though someone had shoved a rod in her spine. She was in the grip of some sort of hallucination, and then the name she shrieked made his blood freeze. "VAAALEN!" Her breath came in hoarse gutteral moans. She strained against the bonds, face twisted in anguish and fury, and then sagged, brow, head and hands twitching. They all watched as her expression became a mask of conflicting emotion, fear, sick rage, despair. The desperate sorrow in her voice vibrated through all of their bones like an icy wind.
Delenn moved closer to the woman in unconscious empathy as the figure suddenly jerked and began gasping for air with strangled cries. "KUUURAAAAAL!" Again, her voice and the name she uttered arrested the breath of the assembled crowd. The woman was leaking beads of water from her hairline, and it ran in rivulets down the side of her face and neck, as blood trickled down her forearms from the spots where her wrists were rubbed raw. Her breathing was labored and shallow. She was clearly ill, injured, or both. How odd. A chill ran through Delenn. This woman was a child really, painfully young by the look of the baby-fat still clinging to her cheeks. They are sending us children. Are we doing any differently? How young are some of our warriors, this young?
All of the blood had drained from Koplannís face as he watched this Human struggle. That is enough, I am getting to the bottom of this. He had had enough eerie unexplainable events to last him for the rest of his life. If the Religious Caste wants to try to explain this one in ephemeral terms, then they can talk until they are blue for all I care, but I am going to find out just what in Valenís name is going on.
"Send for a telepath! We must know what just happened!" No one argued, and Morann went to find a telepath. He returned with a somber man. He got right to the task and easily slipped into the womanís consciousness. She wrestled him in her bonds, while he stood back and concentrated, impassive for a moment. The force of her vision overwhelmed him, and he was sucked into the dream undertow. He did not understand the image he saw of the Starfury, although he had heard that a few Humans had been brought aboard. He did not understand the association she made between Valen and this other human pilot. How does a human know who Valen is, he thought uneasily. Then a dark world engulfed him, and beings surrounded him that he had imagined only in horrid tales uttered under the breath in vacant hallways. Mind-bending silhouettes with too many sets of glittering eyes and dead-season voices congealed around him in the black. His body shuddered involuntarily as the dread gripped him at the sight of the legion before him, myriad strangely-angled limbs, shifting like vapor in and out of sight. Before him in the center of this legion was a sobbing girl-child, no more than a few seasons, chubby cheeks tear-stained. The woman whose consciousness he was borrowing shrieked the babyís name and he could feel the murderous grief and knew without a doubt what he was experiencing. It was a Death Memory. Pulled out of the quagmire in the deepest most hidden layers of the mind, the soul could occasionally, with strong compulsion, remember the last experience before Going Beyond the Veil, especially if it had been a traumatic one, and he could not think of a more traumatic one than this. This was part of the lore of Valen. As was the custom with their people, Valen, as a leader and patron, had taken an aide to train, a young Warrior Caste woman named Turanni. She had fought at Valenís side, as his second-in-command. At the end of the war, her child disappeared. Against Valenís orders, she went to Zíhaídum, the home-world of these demons, knowing she would find her child, and vowing in her anguish to kill every last Shadow if it took a thousand incarnations to do it. No one knew how the outcome became known, or if it was merely rumor, originating in a vacuum. But as the tale was known, she died by her knife, unable to betray the Minbari and refusing to watch the death of her child. In dream, the elegant Minbari dagger slashed into his throat and he jerked his consciousness out, while her hatred reverberated through him, for both the visions, and for him and his violation of her private horror. He could do nothing but stare at the woman in front of him. Her disheveled black hair was escaping in damp loops from the tie at the base of her neck, and her breathing was so ragged he thought she would choke and expire right in front of him. But she glared defiantly at him and he swayed with sickness through waves of her anger. This woman was an incarnation of the disappeared Turanni. It was as simple and strange to him as this entire war with these intense Humans had been.
He turned to Satai Koplann, who had pulled his hood back and was standing out of view of the Human, waiting impatiently. "Satai," his voice trembled, still shaken by the epiphany, "This woman is an incarnation. I saw things in her mind that she could never know if she were Human."
"What did you see? An incarnation of whom?"
"Satai Turanni." The rest of the Grey Council gasped and began muttering. "I saw her Death Memory, Satai. I saw her and her child surrounded by Shadows, and I saw her commit suicide."
"No one knows for certain what happened to Satai Turanni, her body was never found."
"But this Human should never even have known this story, Koplann. How did she know even that much?" An elderly warrior named Lokat pulled back his hood, revealing a craggy weather-beaten face. "And we know from the Telepathís Guild that Death Memories are valid, they have been proven."
Koplann glanced at Morann who had also pulled back his hood. Even the young skeptic looked thoughtful. Koplann had demanded an answer from the universe and now did not like it at all. Instead of fewer mysteries, there were more. He did not like mysteries, or questions. He was just fine with the aspects of the universe that he could see, feel and fight. And he knew, to his chagrin, that the young telepath was right. His bones and the twinge in the pit of his stomach told him so, as he regarded this Human female, the damp black hair, the blazing eyes.
"Erase her memory, whatever we do, she cannot be permitted to remember this, same as the others." The telepath balked for a moment and then quickly looked down, thinking Koplann had not seen his reaction. Koplann ignored the young man and turned to the others. "Very well. We have the shell of Valen, and a late member of the first Nine exiled in Human bodies and desiring to kill us. What now?" He spoke dryly. "I despise the idea of giving in to these animals, but we must stop this. The Humans will fight until they are all dead otherwise. While I would just as soon be done with the whole lot of them, if there are these incarnations among just nine that we selected, it is more likely that there will be others. It is simple statistics. We cannot keep pulling pilots aboard, there are barely any left as it is. They are running out of time. Our warriors are very efficient." Lokat growled in the general direction of what was left of the Human fleet.
"There must be a complete surrender, not just a cease-fire, as we have done! You would not agree to more than a temporary measure after you witnessed this switching of souls in the human, Sinclair. You wanted more proof, you wanted to test others. Now you have! You have your evidence, you have your answers! We must end this war NOW! We can impose conditions upon the truce. The Humans know that we could have wiped them out, but we must surrender! You have seen as well as I. Order the generals to stop, and we will draft our words to their government!" Delenn demanded intently.
Koplann scowled, and began to speak but was beaten to it by the younger Morann. "And what of our military, what of the sacrifices they have all made at our command, Chosen of Dukhat?!" He sneered contemptuously. "You have never been at the helm of a warship as we have, never risked your own blood or life, never ordered men to die, excepting of course when you cast your vote to exact vengeance upon the Humans, which you then later withdrew, after the death of a few thousand of our warriors! You have never fought or bled as we have, how dare you demand that our soldiers now ignore their spilled blood and bow before these animals! Whether they are incarnations of our souls or not, perhaps the Universe bore them as Humans in punishment? Has that thought ever occurred to you?!" There were shocked gasps, even Lokat and Koplann looked slightly scandalized. He had made a good point, but to speak this way about the deceased souls of the Nine...
Delenn drew herself up. "How dare I? Yet you stand here and speak of the sacrifices of our warriors and in the same breath cast aspersion on the sacrifices of Valen and the Nine, with your disrespectful insinuation of the banishment of their souls as aliens! And what matters is not why they are there, why their souls are now Human, when it is Valenís law that Minbari do not kill Minbari! That is the law. It was barely excusable while we did not know, but now we do. We can no longer use ignorance as a lever to discard the law! And who are you to determine the reasons the Universe has placed their souls at such a pass?" The fire in his eyes stoked only minutely. "A typical answer from a priestess! To elevate ethereal philosophy above the hard reality faced by our own dead and wounded. It comes far to easy for those who never experience Ďsuch a pass,í doesnít it?!"
"We will order our generals to surrender, Delenn," Koplann and Lokat nodded. Koplann glared at the incensed Morann, and addressed Delenn. "We all understand what is at stake here, but take more care about how you address your own peers. And take more care to think about the counsel of the Warrior Caste without casting our efforts aside so cavalierly... I would have expected more from the Chosen of Dukhat..." Koplann added sourly.
The warriors had agreed to effect the surrender, reluctantly. But as drastic as Morannís breach in etiquette had been, there was left a sense of jarring discordance, of injury. The stress fracture of the Grey Council had begun.
Alone with the angry woman, the telepath gazed at her sleeping features in wonder. Her name was Havah Lassee, he had learned, a private in the Earth Force army. She was young. Twenty in Human terms, barely more than an adolescent. It seemed like soldiers were getting younger, maybe that was true of Humans as well as Minbari. Or maybe I am just getting old, he thought as he looked at her. He knew she hated him, but he couldnít hate her. He didnít know what he had expected of Humans, but he hadnít expected her. She seemed soÖnormal, like any other Minbari female, except more obviously passionate.
The door opened and a couple of attendants came in, placed a sedative mask over her nose and mouth. They werenít going to take any chances. Then they cautiously untied her, carrying her out on a gurney. He followed her with his mind until she was released into space, hoping she would be alright. He would never tell anyone, but having seen into the mind of a Human, even a Human with a Minbari soul, he was glad they had surrendered. As furious as the Warrior Caste were going to be, probably for the rest of their collective days, he was glad they hadnít annihilated the Humans. The Warrior Caste saw them as dangerous beasts, and maybe it was that which drew him. They excited him, their rawness, and passion. The Minbari were a passionate people, but not like Humans. There was a raw vitality, that made him realize after the Human prisoners were gone, just how utterly mind-numbingly BORED he had been. Theyíre one big bundle of nerve-endings trailing out all over the galaxy, constantly moving, like toddlers sticking their eager grubby hands into every orifice, turning over every star and poking at every sleeping demon, just to see how it will react to them. Testing limits. He mused.
Havah awoke with a jolt as the Starfury attached a grappling arm to her ship and began towing her in to dock. By the time they docked, she was gasping for air, cyanotic and queasy. A medical team took her to Med Lab, after affixing an oxygen mask around her face. The doctor began examining her. She pushed aside the mask and tried asking questions, between wheezes.
"What...happened, sir? There was... no one... fighting."
He moved her hands and re-fitted the mask. "Lay back and donít talk. Your lung is damaged... The Minbari surrendered."
She tried to sit up and removed the mask again. "What?! No... no one... told me! Why did they... surrender... sir? We... were all... dying... out there! Did... something... happenó"
He pushed her back down and put the mask back on, irascibly. "No, I donít know, as far as I know they didnít give a reason. Lay down, and stop taking the mask off!"
She lay back and stared at the ceiling. She was very happy to be alive. But that was so odd, it was as though a chunk of time were missing because a lot of important things had just happened and she didnít know what or how it had happened, or seen any of it. She was out of some important loop.
He spoke again. "What were you doing in a Star Fury in your condition? My scanner shows that you have lung damage, two broken ribs and the remnants of a concussion. They are about a week old, and while much of the damage is healing, you had no business being in the air. Iím going to find out who let you out and tear them a new asshole!"
Havah sat up again, horrified. "No, sir... they were too busy! It's... not... their fault! They needed... all... the people... they could get."
"What I canít figure out is why you are even walking around. Your injuries arenít severe anymore, but... the rate of healing has been remarkable." After checking his instruments several times, he drew some blood and ran an antigen test.
When he returned, the mixed look of astonishment and annoyance had returned. "Private, you should be wearing a medical bracelet! You have an unidentified blood type. What if you had needed blood and we had given you the standard? Your blood would have coagulated in your veins as an immune response to a normal blood type. You can only accept synthetic blood until we figure out what the hell to give you! And I'm going to have a talk with the entry facility about this."
She tried to say, "Yes sir." But he glowered at her when she tried to remove the mask, so she just nodded.
"How did you get these abrasions, on your wrists? They look like cuff-marks."
She just stared at him, blankly.
He ran the scanner again across her head, "There are still microfractures in the top layer of bone. Itís possible that you could be sustaining memory loss from this. You should never have been in a Star Fury!" He put down the scanner in a fit of pique. "Your blood gases are giving me unusual readings, Iím going to do a toxicological analysis. If something got into the air of the Star Fury, that could also cause memory loss." After completing his exam, he left her on the cot, with the threat of restraints if she tried to leave before he declared her fit for duty. She recovered enough within a couple of days to be released to her quarters. The doctor gave orders directly to her new superior officer that she was not to return to duty until she had gone for a follow-up exam in two weeks. The orders did not include debriefing.
After returning to base, she was debriefed and then called to the central office. She had never sat in front of a general before. He stared at her with calculating eyes and cropped white hair. He gave her a patronizing smile that looked more like a grimace. He ordered her account of what had happened on the Line. It was now being called the Battle of the Line. And he listened with growing consternation.
"Is that all, Private?"
"You donít remember anything after your ship was hit?"
"As you must know by now, the Minbari surrendered. They never gave a reason, but they did tell us that they encountered a few of our pilots. You were one of them. They assured us that you gave them no information. But they surrendered shortly after this exploration into human anatomy, and I would very much like to know why, and what happened up there. They informed us that your memory of the ship was erased for security purposes, but that nothing else was done. If there is anything that you can remember, it would be helpful. I would also urge you to submit to a telepathic scan for these memories. I donít trust these people, and neither should you. We need to know everything we can about them."
Cold clammy stones filled her gut as she listened, both at the prospect of having been examined by these aliens, and by the idea of having another telepath rooting around in her mind looking for things she wasnít sure she even wanted to remember. So that is what happened to her. Her wrists had been tied. This must be how date rape victims feel when they wake up and discover that their shirt is on inside out, she thought. Swallowing more stones, she said, "Alright sir, I guess it would be ok."
"Good, Iíll arrange it and let you know. Dismissed."
"Yes, sir," she uttered miserably.
She underwent a scan, and even consented to a deep scan, which was of course, fruitless. The block was too strong and well-placed, and she left the room with the telepath, feeling more uneasy about her amnesia than when she first learned of it. She had also been forced to relive the death of her ersatz squadron, Donaldson, Chin, Geezus, the others. It was all slowly sinking in. There were a lot of people that she wouldnít see again. It had all happened so quickly. Her limbs were too heavy and all she wanted was to sleep for a year and wake up with everything as it was before the beginning of this week. But it wouldnít happen. People were throwing parties and celebrating the end of the war. And she would love to have celebrated. Normally she wouldíve gone to the parties, played and lost all her money in poker, and drank her virgin "girlie-drinks", her friends called them. Her friends...
Iím going to bed, and she cried herself to sleep.
The doctor looked at Havahís blood again. How strange. He sent a sample to one of the doctors in xenobiology. They had all kinds of blood types there. One of the xenobiologists unboxed the sample and began testing it. It didnít fit any of the blood types of known races, Centauri, Narn, none of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, no one. There was only one type he hadnít tested yet. He accessed a few small samples of Minbari blood.
A guard walked in, preceding an officer, and the Med Lab doctor looked up, and handed him Havahís blood sample.
"Is this all of it, Doctor?"
"Xenobiology was the only place I sent it to, yes. May I ask whatís going on, sir?"
"No, you may not. Thank you, Doctor, that will be all."
Havah was called in to her new superiorís office the next day, and couldnít believe what she was being told.
"Discharged? Why, sir?"
"It's an honorable discharge, Private."
"But, with all due respect, sir, there were other soldiers who were wounded worse than me. Why are they letting me go?"
"I donít know, Private Lassee, those are my orders."
"Thank you sir." There didnít seem to be anything more to ask. Well, sheíd go to college sooner than she thought. She admitted to feeling somewhat deflated now, though. The war was over. Unless they picked a fight with someone else, the danger was largely over. She had three more years left to her tour of duty, and she was just getting used to it, and now, she was out again.
"Yes sir?" She turned, in front of the door.
"It's been an honor serving with you."
"Yes, sir. Thank you sir." She left and began packing.
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