The conference room was half full--almost 150 people were gathered there, waiting.
Dr. Franklin studied the autopsy report with a frown. It looked, impossible as it was, as though the Minbari warrior had... just died. Heart and brain had both stopped, within seconds of each other, but there was no sign of a heart attack or stroke, and no signs of any foreign substances in the body. In other words, there was no reason for her to be dead. But she was. And what was he going to tell--
"Dr. Franklin," came a soft voice from behind him, and he turned to see Ambassador Delenn standing there. Behind her, with an apologetic look on his face, was Garibaldi.
"Ambassador," Dr. Franklin said, nodding in acknowledgement.
"I have just heard that a Minbari warrior was found dead in her quarters," the ambassador continued.
"Yes," Dr. Franklin said. "I've just finished the autopsy--"
"And what were the results?"
Dr. Franklin looked at her, puzzled. The ambassador seemed to be unusually tense, as though something were very wrong.
"It's hard to say," he hedged, shooting an accusing look over the ambassador's head at Garibaldi. Why had he let her in here?
"What do you mean, doc?" the Chief of Security asked, and Franklin had to fight the urge to strangle him.
"I mean," he replied, gritting his teeth, "that there is absolutely no reason for her to be dead, except for the fact that her heart and brain both just stopped working! There's no sign of a heart attack or stroke, no sign she was poisoned, no sign she'd been in a fight... Hell, there's no sign of anything that could have killed her!"
Delenn frowned, and then turned to Garibaldi. "What was her name?"
Garibaldi reached over and took the dead Minbari's identicard off the autopsy report, and slid it into his scanner. "Alyt Sherann, from Minbar," he replied.
Delenn gasped, and both men turned to look at her, puzzled.
"Is something wrong, ambassador?"
Her mouth tightened. "Perhaps," she said, and, before either of them could question her, she strode firmly out of Medlab.
In the conference room, more than a hundred and fifty people waited.
"You're sure she recognized the name?" demanded Captain Sheridan.
"Positive," Garibaldi replied with a nod. "She went almost ghost-white."
"Delenn?" Ivanova exclaimed in surprise.
"Yeah, Delenn," Garibaldi said, leaning back in his chair. "I could almost swear that she was terrified."
"Delenn?" Ivanova repeated. "Terrified?" Sheridan echoed her stare of disbelief.
"Terri--" Garibaldi began, and then stopped as his link beeped.
"Garibaldi here. What is it?"
Lou Welch's voice came from over the link. "We're in Red 7, chief, and I think you'd better get down here," he said. "We've got a problem."
Sheridan, Ivanova, and Garibaldi arrived outside the room Lou had called from ten minutes later. They found Lou, Zack Allan, and Ambassador Delenn waiting for them.
"What happened?" Garibaldi demanded, as Sheridan studied the faces of the ambassador and the two Security Officers.
Lou Welch looked no different than he ever did, but both Zack and Ambassador Delenn were rather pale.
The ambassador stepped forward.
"I was supposed to meet with the man who rented these quarters half an hour ago," she replied. "However, when I arrived, he did not respond. After I had waited for nearly ten minutes, I felt it best to call Security."
"And?" Garibaldi prodded.
"We got here about fifteen minutes ago, chief, and well..." Lou said, gesturing through the open door. They all filed in.
Lying on the floor was a man dressed in dark brown. His eyes were open and stared emptily up at the ceiling, and a look of shock and horror was frozen on his face.
Garibaldi bent over the corpse, and then stepped back with a gasp of surprise and shock.
Sheridan glanced at him, puzzled, and then turned to look at the dead man.
There didn't seem to be anything unusual about him, aside from the fact that he was dead. Certainly nothing to cause such a reaction in the Security Chief, unless...
"Do you know this man, Garibaldi?" Sheridan asked.
Garibaldi shook his head. "No, I don't," he replied. "I don't think I've ever seen him before, in fact."
Sheridan looked at him doubtfully for a moment, and then turned to Ambassador Delenn.
"Obviously, you knew him, Ambassador," he said. "Who was he?"
"A business acquaintance," Delenn replied. She glanced at the body. "A trader who was interested in gaining Minbari business."
"Why do you think he was killed?" Sheridan demanded.
Delenn drew herself up, "I cannot think of any reason."
Sheridan wasn't so sure that he believed her. It wasn't necessarily that she was actually lying, but he had a feeling that she was hiding something from him.
"Now, if you will excuse me," Delenn continued, "I have some things that I must attend to." She bowed slightly, and walked out.
Sheridan turned back to look at the corpse. "Call Dr. Franklin," he ordered Ivanova. "I want an autopsy done as soon as possible. Two deaths in less than a day, and Ambassador Delenn apparently connected to both..." He shook his head.
As Ivanova nodded and got on the link, Sheridan looked at bit closer at the body. There was something he hadn't noticed before. He reached down, and took a brooch off of the man's tunic.
The brooch had a large blue jewel in the center, and a figure on either side of it. He turned it over, studying it, and then looked up in time to see Zack Allan's eyes fix on the brooch with a look that he couldn't read.
A whisper of unease passed through the conference room, and then died down, as over a hundred and seventy people waited.
Lennier stood up as Delenn entered. He noticed her expression, and immediately poured her a cup of tea.
"What has happened?" he asked, as he held the cup out to her.
"Thank you, Lennier," Delenn replied, taking the cup and sitting down on the couch.
"As for what has happened, both Alyt Sherann and the ranger Marcus Ferstein are dead. Dr. Franklin has no idea how the Alyt died, and he is no doubt doing an autopsy on the ranger right now."
Lennier looked shocked. "Alyt Sherann? But she is--"
"Yes," Delenn replied.
"We must inform the Hezarr immediately," she continued. "I was unable to get the records and messages from the ranger's quarters, which will make the entire matter much more complicated. And I don't think it wise to attempt to get them now--I believe that Captain Sheridan is already suspicious."
"I'll tell you one thing right now," Dr. Franklin said, sitting down with a tired sigh. "You are not going to like what I've got to say."
Sheridan, Garibaldi, and Ivanova glanced at each other, and then turned back to Franklin.
"Well?" Sheridan demanded.
"I completed the autopsy of the man from Red 7," the doctor said. He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead for a moment, and then opened them again. "And, aside from increased levels of adrenaline, I found nothing!"
"What do you mean, nothing?" Ivanova asked in disbelief. "That guy was obviously killed by something--"
"Not according to the medical evidence, he wasn't," Franklin interrupted. "It was just like that Minbari warrior, except that she had no increase of adrenaline equivalent in her system.
"But that's not what I meant by the news that you're not going to like," he added.
"Well, what is it, doc?" Garibaldi demanded irritably.
Sheridan shot a covert glance at him, wondering again what the Chief of Security was hiding with regard to the corpse of the man from Red 7. Whatever it was, it seemed to be making him tenser than usual.
"I asked the computer to compare the results of both autopsies with all previous records, to see if this sort of situation had been encountered before, perhaps during the time that Dr. Kyle was here.
"It turned up one case that wasn't just similiar, but, allowing for the different species, identical."
"Yes?" prodded Sheridan.
"The Soul Hunter."
The effect of the doctor's words on Ivanova and Garibaldi was electric. Sheridan just felt confused.
"So you think we may have another insane Soul Hunter on our hands?" demanded Garibaldi. "The only difference being that this one kills people instantly with his machine, rather than trying to bleed them to death?"
"Quite frankly, I haven't the faintest idea," the doctor replied, and Sheridan clenched his jaw in frustration. What were they talking about?
"It might, however," Franklin continued, "explain Ambassador Delenn's reactions to the deaths. If she--"
"Wouldn't work unless she knew we had one on board," Garibaldi countered, "and I think--in fact, I'm positive--that she'd let us know if there was a Soul Hunter on B5, one way or another. Remember what she tried to do to the first one?"
"So we've probably got something like a Soul Hunter, but that's not a Soul Hunter?" Ivanova asked incredulously. "You're right, Steven, I don't like this."
Sheridan cleared his throat loudly, and his three officers turned to look at him.
"Would someone mind explaining to me just what the hell you're talking about?" he demanded.
"I do not think we should continue. There is too much at stake for you to place yourself at risk, Sarech," the Minbari warrior said firmly, pacing back and forth across the floor of the room on the Hezarr that had been put aside for the Sarech's use.
"We don't have any time to waste," came the counter-argument from the Sarech's young aide, Avair. "This is much too time-sensitive to be put off."
"Sherann is dead," the warrior stated, stopping and turning to look at the young priest. "The circumstances of her death are too unusual to be a coincidence. It is too dangerous to continue."
"But--" Avair began.
"We will continue," came a stern voice, that of the Sarech, and both Minbari turned to the cloaked figure seated in the chair. "Avair is right--our mission is too urgent to be delayed--even by this.
"Inform the Alyt that we are to proceed to the Babylon 5 station immediately."
"Surely you don't believe all that stuff about souls," Sheridan said.
"Of course not," replied Dr. Franklin. "However, the Soul Hunter's machine did kill him when the Commander turned it on him."
"And according to the Commander," Garibaldi added, "it was just about to kill Delenn, and would have done so, if he hadn't moved it. According to Delenn as well."
He didn't add the fact that Jeff claimed he had seen something, and a glance at Franklin told him that there would be no mention of it from that quarter either, which was all to the good. Particularly if Sheridan found out about the rangers; they didn't need him thinking that Jeff was crazy.
And it was all too likely that the captain would find out about them--Marcus Ferstein, the guy from Red 7, had been a ranger, and Garibaldi had seen Sheridan examining his brooch.
"So," Sheridan said, breaking into Garibaldi's train of thought, "what do you know about the machines of these Soul Hunters?"
The three of them looked at each other.
"Nothing," Ivanova said finally. "The Commander had it destroyed."
The conference room was filling up rapidly--it now held more than two hundred people. They sat in small groups, talking quietly amongst themselves, and waiting.
Garibaldi sighed to himself as he looked through Marcus Ferstein's personal effects. He hated this part of his job--going through the things of a dead person, trying to figure out why he or she had been killed, and by whom. And it was worse this time, because it was one of Jeff's rangers. One of Jeff's people, who had, apparently, been killed, and in his jurisdiction. He didn't relish explaining this to Jeff.
And there was another problem. Captain Sheridan.
He had taken Ferstein's ranger brooch. He probably didn't know what it meant, but Garibaldi was sure that the captain had seen his reaction to it, and he didn't like what it might lead to.
He sighed again, just as his eyes fell on a small box that he hadn't noticed at first. He reached out and opened it.
There were eight data crystals in it, six of them labeled with two colored dots each, and an empty space where another crystal would go. He frowned and began to reach for one of the labeled crystals, when the door to his office opened He looked up, and hid a start of apprehension--it was Sheridan.
"Mr. Garibaldi, I'm glad I caught you here," Sheridan said. "I think it's time that we asked Ambassador Delenn a few questions about this mess. She seems to be right in the middle of this, so it's only reasonable. Come on."
"Captain, I've got to finish going through--" Garibaldi began, but Sheridan shook his head.
"You can finish whatever it is later, Garibaldi. I've got the feeling that Delenn knows something about this that she's not telling us, and I think that we need to know that something as soon as possible."
Garibaldi grimaced, shut the box of data crystals, and followed Sheridan out the door.
Sheridan felt himself tense up slightly as the door to Ambassador Delenn's quarters opened. Despite everything that had happened, he still found her a little overwhelming.
Delenn nodded to them as they entered. "Good day, Captain Sheridan, Mr. Garibaldi," she said, calmly taking out two more teacups and putting them on the delicate looking tray that already held the teapot and one cup. "Would you care for some tea?" she added, as she gestured for them to sit down on the couch.
"I'm afraid we don't have time for that, Ambassador," Sheridan replied, answering formality with formality.
Delenn sat down in the chair facing the couch and placed the tray on the table. "Are you sure, Captain? It is a very pleasant type, one that I'm certain you have not had a chance to enjoy before."
She began to pour the tea into all three cups as she continued.
"The plant, which is called Naresh, grows only in certain parts of Minbar's northern hemisphere, and can only be harvested every two cycles. I only recently received this shipment; it was a gift from a close friend."
"That's very interesting, Ambassador," Sheridan said, "but we have to discuss the matter of Mr. Ferst--"
Just then, Sheridan's link beeped.
"Sheridan here. What is it?" the captain said, a tinge of irritation in his voice.
"I'm sorry to have to disturb you, Captain," answered Ivanova's voice, "but we've just had an unscheduled Minbari cruiser, the Hezarr, come through the jumpgate. The captain, Alyt Loseann, is demanding to speak to Ambassador Delenn."
Sheridan happened to be looking at Delenn as Ivanova spoke, and he saw a look of great surprise cross her face at the mention of the cruiser's name. "The Hezarr?" she repeated.
She then looked at the captain.
"Perhaps if Commander Ivanova sends the communication to the screen here?"
Sheridan thought rapidly for a moment, and then nodded firmly. "Ivanova," he said into his link, "patch the communication through to Ambassador Delenn's quarters."
"All right, Captain. It's coming through now," Ivanova replied, and the face of a female Minbari warrior appeared on the screen.
Delenn moved forward to stand directly in front of the screen, as the Alyt's eyes took in Sheridan and Garibaldi. She then looked to Delenn, and bowed slightly. "Ambassador Delenn," she said.
"Alyt Loseann," Delenn replied, with a bow that was the tiniest bit slighter than the one the Alyt had given her. Sheridan noticed an arrogant tilt to her head as she continued speaking.
"Why have you brought the Hezarr here, Alyt? I believe that I informed you that it was not safe enough."
Both Sheridan and Garibaldi stared at the Minbari Ambassador.
Sheridan found himself remembering the reason that he and Garibaldi were here--his suspicion that Delenn knew more about the deaths of Alyt Sherann and Mr. Ferstein than she had let on. And from her last statement, it seemed that Hezarr had been coming here anyway, before the deaths, but he knew that there were no Minbari cruisers scheduled, much less a cruiser called Hezarr. What on earth was going on?
"Yes, Ambassador, you did," the Alyt was saying, and Sheridan brought his attention back to the matter at hand.
"However, the Sarech felt that the risk was not enough to call this visit off. Did you not get his message?"
"No, I did not," Delenn replied, frowning. "Circumstances have prevented that, unfortunately."
"I see," the Alyt answered, and then her attention was apparently called away from the comscreen for a moment.
Garibaldi took the opportunity that it offered, speaking before Sheridan could organize his thoughts enough to do likewise.
"Ambassador, why is the Hezarr here? I know as well as Ivanova that it wasn't due; at least, not on any official schedule."
"You will find out soon enough, Mr. Garibaldi," Delenn said curtly, as the Alyt's attention returned to them. She didn't look particularly pleased.
"Ambassador, the Sarech wishes to speak with you. I have suggested that he wait until he can speak to you in person, but he feels that it is necessary to speak not only with you yourself, but with your present companions as well. Do you agree to this?"
The Alyt's tone, Sheridan noticed absently, was one of mixed disapproval and respect.
Delenn glanced at the two of them for a moment, and then nodded. "It seems to be the only choice left to us, Alyt Loseann," she replied. "So yes, I agree, to the necessity if not to the wisdom of it."
"I will get him. It will be but a moment."
The screen blanked, and Sheridan turned to Delenn. "Who is this Sarech?" he asked.
"An important man, Captain," the ambassador replied. "'Sarech' is the title given to him by those who follow him--it means 'the one who leads' in Adronado."
Then the screen flickered, and the three of them turned their attention back to it. An image appeared, and Sheridan felt his mouth drop open in shock.
It was a human's face; he had dark hair that was beginning to grey, pushed back from his face, and dark eyes.
"Hello, Delenn, Michael," the man said, in a warm, rich voice. "It's good to see you both again."
Then he turned to Sheridan. "And you must be Captain Sheridan," he said.
Sheridan felt almost as though the man's eyes could burn through him, they were so intense, but he recovered quickly.
"Yes, I am," he replied. "And you are..."
Delenn moved gracefully to one side. "Captain Sheridan, I have the honour to introduce Earth Ambassador Jeffrey Sinclair, the Sarech."
In the conference room, everyone quieted as the screens set into the walls flashed white for a moment, and then went blank again.
"He's there," came someone's voice.
Their wait was almost over.
Sheridan, Garibaldi, and Ambassador Delenn were the only ones in Docking Bay 5 to greet the passengers of the shuttle from the Minbari cruiser Hezarr, as they were the only ones (with the exception of Lennier) who knew who was on the shuttle. At least, that's what Sheridan hoped.
The door of the shuttle opened and three people came out--two Minbari, one warrior caste and one religious caste, and a human. Jeffrey Sinclair, former Commander of Babylon 5, presently the Earth Ambassador to Minbar.
Ambassador Sinclair moved forward with a smile on his face, and Sheridan's attention was caught by the brooch on the ambassador's chest.
Sheridan felt a small shock of surprise as he recognized it--it was identical to the brooch that the man from Red 7, Marcus Ferstein, had worn. He wondered what the brooch meant.
Then Ambassador Sinclair was standing in front of him, his hand out. Sheridan shook it and the ambassador's smile widened a bit, although his eyes were strangely somber.
"I'm pleased to finally meet you, Captain," he said then. "Both Delenn and Michael have told me a great deal about you."
"All of it good, I hope," Sheridan replied, still feeling confused.
Delenn hadn't explained anything to him; not what Ambassador Sinclair was doing here, away from his post on Minbar; not what the mysterious deaths of Alyt Sherann and Marcus Ferstein might have to do with this; nothing.
Ambassador Sinclair gave a noncommital shrug and gestured to his two companions. "Captain Sheridan, Michael, I'd like you to meet Kozorr, of the Star Rider clan, and my aide, Avair. Kozorr, Avair, these are Captain Sheridan, the commander of Babylon 5, and Michael Garibaldi, the chief of security."
The Minbari warrior Kozorr looked at Garibaldi with a hint of a smile. "I imagine we have some things in common, then, Michael Garibaldi," he said. "I am in charge of Ambassador Sinclair's safety."
A look of sardonic amusement crossed Garibaldi's face. "Yes, we probably do," he agreed.
The ambassador, Sheridan noted, looked amused at the comment.
Then Delenn stepped forward, and Ambassador Sinclair turned his attention to her with alacrity.
"We must talk," she said firmly.
"Yes," agreed Sinclair. "There is a great deal to discuss, and we don't have much time left."
Everyone else, Sheridan noticed (including himself), had fallen silent as soon as Delenn had spoken, and were listening carefully.
Delenn glanced around the docking bay, and frowned. "This is not a good place. We shall go to my quarters."
"All right," Sinclair said. He pulled up the hood of his cloak, hiding his face, and turned to the two Minbari who had come with him.
"Avair, stay here with the shuttle, just in case. Kozorr, you'll come with us."
Sheridan and Garibaldi sat on the couch, Delenn sat in one chair, Ambassador Sinclair in another, and Kozorr remained standing by the door. Sheridan was the first to speak.
"I'm happy to finally meet you, Ambassador Sinclair, but I'm wondering why you've come here. Particularly now, in the middle of some rather--unusual--events," he said carefully.
Sinclair glanced at Delenn, who nodded firmly.
"I'm here," the ambassador began, slowly, "because there is someone here that I need to consult, on a matter of utmost importance. And I don't trust the communications links."
Before Sheridan could respond, Garibaldi leaned forward "What's going on, Jeff? Does it have anything to do with your last message to me?"
The ambassador paused for a moment, and then nodded. "Yes, Michael, it does.
"Captain Sheridan," he continued, "for the past eight months, I have been aware of a-a darkness that is coming. Ambassadors Kosh and Delenn have already told you about it, I know."
Sheridan felt as though he'd been hit in the head with a board. Was Ambassador Sinclair talking about the Shadows, and Z'ha'dum? And if so, what did that mean?
Sinclair, seeing the look on the captain's face, nodded. "Yes, the Shadows," he replied to the unasked question.
Sheridan noticed that Garibaldi looked as startled as he felt.
"I have an--organization, if you will, of humans and Minbari, who have spent the past eight months collecting information about this darkness. But the Shadows are getting ready to move, and we can't let them move first.
"I've come here to ask Ambassador Kosh about which move should be made."
"I have already spoken to Ambassador Kosh," Delenn said, startling both Sheridan and Garibaldi. "I asked him which, old or new, and he replied, 'Old'."
"Thank you, Delenn," Sinclair said, a smile crossing his face. "I appreciate that."
He reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a green-coloured crystal, which he tapped twice, and then spoke at.
In the conference room, the screens came on and shone red for a moment, before turning back off. Everyone stood up and began to hurry out the doors. Their wait was over--they had their target.
"What are you talking about, old or new?" Sheridan demanded.
Sinclair started to reply, and then stopped as the door chimed.
"Who is it?" Delenn asked.
"Zack Allan to see the ambassador," came the reply.
Sheridan and Garibaldi looked at each other. Sheridan could tell that Garibaldi was thinking the same thing he was--that Delenn would tell Zack to come back later. Then Sheridan saw the warrior, Kozorr, shoot a look at Sinclair and Delenn.
"Enter," Delenn said, and the door opened.
Since the four of them were in the room next to the one with the door, Zack couldn't see them immediately. The only one he would notice upon entering would be Kozorr, and Sheridan expected him to be surprised to see a warrior in Delenn's quarters.
Instead, it was Sheridan who got the surprise.
"Hello, Kozorr," Zack said as he entered.
"Good day," the warrior replied, and then gestured toward the room where Sheridan, Garibaldi, Delenn and Sinclair were gathered. "They're in there," he added.
"Thank you," Zack replied, strode in, and stopped in shock as he took in Sheridan and Garibaldi's presence.
"What are you doing here, Zack?" Garibaldi asked.
Zack was silent for a moment, and then took a deep breath and replied. "I have a message for the ambassador," he said, and then turned, not to Delenn, but to Sinclair.
"I found this on Marcus's desk," he said, holding out a data crystal with a small black dot on the label. "It gives an explanation for what must have happened to himself and Sherann."
At that, everyone, including Kozorr, stared at the security officer.
Sinclair got up and took the crystal from him. "Why don't you tell us the basics?" he said, gesturing to the chair he'd been in. "Captain Sheridan and Garibaldi both know some of what's going on, so you can tell all of us."
"Yes, sir," Zack said, sitting down in the chair. He then turned to Garibaldi.
"I'm sorry I didn't let you know about this earlier, chief," he said, "but I was under orders to keep the fact that I'm a Ranger secret."
"Wait just a minute," Sheridan said, holding up his hand. "Could someone please tell me what you're talking about?"
Sinclair nodded. "Zack is a part of that organization I mentioned to you," he said. "They're called Rangers.
"Both Marcus Ferstein and Alyt Sherann were also Rangers," he added.
"Now, Zack, what happened?"
The security officer shifted uneasily.
"Marcus went to investigate the Triangle," he said. "There's been a sudden upsurge in the rumors about it since the start of the Narn-Centauri war, and he had some time on his hands, so he decided to check it out.
"He found signs of Shadow activity."
At that, Sheridan sat bolt upright in shock. There were Shadows on his station? When Morden wasn't there?
"And?" Sinclair asked, before Sheridan could say anything.
"According to the recording, he told Sherann, and she was determined to investigate it," Zack replied. "She felt it might be a threat that you couldn't afford to risk.
"It's likely that she made some mistake, and they killed her, followed her trail back to Marcus, and killed him as well."
Sinclair nodded. "Do you think they found out about us?"
"I don't know," Zack said, shrugging. "But it won't really matter soon, will it, sir?"
Sinclair shook his head. "No. They're on their way."
"Who's on their way, and where?" Garibaldi asked.
Ambassador Sinclair studied each of them, finally resting his gaze for a full minute on Sheridan.
"The Rangers," he said then. "We're making the first move."
In the space above the planet Iraxes, on the Rim of known space, a jumpgate point formed, bringing with it a Minbari war cruiser and its daughter ships, both Minbari and human fighters.
Sinclair, Sheridan, Garibaldi, and Delenn were sitting in Sheridan's office, as Sheridan tried to decide how much Dr. Franklin should know about what killed Alyt Sherann and Marcus Ferstein, when Sinclair felt his message crystal pulse.
He stood up and moved to a corner, ignoring the way the others were watching him, and took the crystal out of his pocket.
"Yes?" he said quietly into it.
"It was a success. We achieved our goal," came Alyt Loseann's voice.
"So," Sinclair said to himself, as he slipped the crystal back into his pocket. He turned back to the other three, his gaze, suddenly intense, passing over them.