THE FIFTH QUESTION
Previously: Abandonment Issues
Themesong: Say Amen by Panic! at the Disco
AN: my apologies for the prolonged delay, I have been (and to an extent, still am) under the weather. A headcold became pneumonia and has now backed off to merely being bronchitis. I barely avoided hospitalization, but two weeks of being bedridden isn’t fun and hardly conducive to writing anything enjoyable. Thank you all for your patience… and boy would I not kill for a Jumper’s medbay… or immunity to disease.
As I re-entered my warehouse, eager to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in a decade and just as eager to doff the rather uncomfortable flesh of Dashel Smallwood, which I admit was feeling a little like a suit one has been forced to wear for far too long, I knew that there was a fifty fifty chance that my next jump would force me into a role I wasn’t keen on embracing. My brief glimpse into the future of Jumpchain was running out, but I’d been given a list of ten settings and this was number nine. It would either be Assassination Classroom or Babylon 5.
If it was AssClass, then all would be well. I could either do nothing and allow canon events to take out the ‘evil’ would-be world-destroying teacher… or step in and make things worse. But if it was Babylon 5… well… it was.
And so, once again, I am faced with that special kind of ethical quandary that only impacts beings of a certain power level and foreknowledge. It is one step beyond the Superman Dilemma. In that, the question is ‘Does he who has the power to save lives have the ethical responsibility to do so?’ The answer is, of course, probably. But those lives do not exist in vacuum and, like it or not, not all lives are equal. I’ve ended the lives of tyrants to make things better… and sometimes it’s worked… while other times it has plunged nations into civil war that have seen the rise of even more brutal regimes (this is not what happened in Bartimaeus. I did a decent but imperfect job of rebuilding an ethically sound Britain, stymied only by the fact that it was still populated by humans and spirits, neither of which is an ethically sound race.) Yet when the life in question is a sick child or a man being murdered for the contents of his wallet, should I not intervene? Some would say yes, of course I should. Others would ask, who am I to play god?
The answer, is, obviously… I am a god. A young one, perhaps, and certainly not omnipotent, but a god nonetheless. With but a flick of will, I can affect change across a world. I hold the power of life and death… but as I grow in power, I find myself faced with the God Dilemma. Do I act and remove mortal agency completely? Is it my divine right? I look upon the Babylon 5 setting and ponder. With little effort I could bring the full force of my might into this universe. I have no reason not to… but the question of Stewardship balks me.
I have no desire to remain in this world. Not for eternity. Not even for a few thousand years. If I act too overtly, I will be nothing more than the Vorlons or Shadows writ large, another force imparting my own will upon the younger races… and I do not desire that. The Vorlons and Shadows must learn their lesson, and so must the children.
So what is my role here? Do I come merely as a witness? Could I not do that from the comfort of my couch? And yet, there are things to do here. Things that will serve a purpose. Things that will, at the very least, amuse me. Yes, I finally decide. I will bear witness, though on my own terms. And mostly? I will have fun. It’s a good universe for that, all things considered.
I sat in the command chair of Yuzuha, who was telling me all about her wonderful vacation in the land of the endless FPS. She can be adorkably bloodthirsty when the mood hits her. I’d been spending time with many of those who’d gone off for the decade, seeing how they’d been, if they’d enjoyed it, if they were considering settling down.
The general consensus was no. The opportunity cost for abandoning the company was too high, both in personal empowerment and loss of familial cohesion. Even those who were not part of my personal periphery, such as the majority of the second generationers, would be losing out, as their parents were unlikely to come with them at the very least. Of course, they were also friends of my children, who had not yet entered that rebellious phase where they felt the need to prove themselves to me… and if they left the chain, then proving themselves to me would be quite difficult. Also, none of the second generation had home settings, so they would default to the Warehouse as their place of origin.
The Passengers were a different matter entirely. Anne, Sakura, Brigid, Raven, Bart, Beth, Toph, Kendra, Uriel, Gaius, Reggy, Butlerseid, and Meetra… each had their own reason for following me. Toph, Uriel, Gaius, Reggy, and Kendra were (for all intents and purposes) dead in their home realities. Toph, Uriel, and Gaius had been old and had said their farewells before following me, Reggy was a war-criminal wanted very dead, and Kendra had been murdered. Bart, Reggy, and Darkseid had all been more or less kidnapped from their home realities, realities which would not miss them and would, in fact, probably consider their return casus belli. They weren’t going home again. Anne, Sakura, Brigid, and Raven were all on vacation from their original lives, lives they (to some extent) planned to return to, but were in no hurry to do so.
Yuzuha, however, was not one of those. She and I were bonded. Our lifeforces wrapped around each others, and while she didn’t worship the ground I walked on like the other members of the fleet (or lust after my affections like a puppy), she and I were friends. We understood one another… even if she was warlike to an unhealthy extreme. She was practically buzzing with excitement at the idea of fighting a Vorlon Worldkiller or a fleet of Shadow Battlecrabs. And that’s why we’d transported a slab of Chamberstone into the Fleet Maneuvering Zone, the largest and emptiest of my subspace pockets.
The space was huge. Big enough to fit Sakura (who was almost the size of Luna), Viggo (the death star 2), Joy (a little bigger than Earth), and Me (37% of Jupiter) all at our largest with plenty of elbow-room, and by elbow-room I mean without any of us orbiting each other. It was an experiment in just how big an empty bubble I could make. Yuzuha in battleship mode didn’t even make a noticeable dent in all that titanic vastness. It was also as close to a pure vacuum as it could be.
As too (or very nearly) was Yuzuha’s tale of the time spent in the realm of ‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’… which, goes to show that even a 14,000 year old being still has stuff to learn… as I was unaware that there were different story arcs within Call of Duty… or indeed, story arcs at all. I’d been under the apprehension that the series was set in… I dunno… some war that the US had fought in, maybe WW2 or Viet Nam… and never given it any thought at all. But no, apparently the majority of my fleet had spent the last decade in the 2050s, fighting a private military corporation called ATLAS.
I won’t go into the details… largely because they were as disastrous as you might expect with five bookers and six overpowered, under-intellectual warships in human form wandering about, hashing up the plot. In fact, I can only assume that world was still standing thanks to the grace of some kind of plotrails that kept my errant companions largely on the straight and narrow.
I will say I learned something interesting however. The Side-Jumps weren’t, technically, free. For up to 8 companions (or companion-like groupings) it cost 1500 CP. Of course, I wasn’t paying that CP, so it had to come from Drawbacks… and the drawbacks couldn’t be doubled up on (at least not in the 3 Side-Jumps they’d taken, though I’d assume some Jumps that had a smaller selection might allow it.). Thus, in order to get their 600 CP and free background, plus 100 from Single Shot (which, no, didn’t count towards the 1500), pretty much everyone would have to take a drawback for the duration of play. Also, the seniormost Companion would be counted as ‘Primary’ for all such things… i.e. taking the part of the MC (if there was one) and generally acting like Jumper Junior.
Which I guess goes a long way to explaining why Yuzuha was telling me all about the adventures she’d had as one ‘Jack Mitchell’ (Female) and all about how Odwet had turned out to be a mole that no one had seen coming, despite his family name (Irons) being the same as that of the badguy and Atlas CEO. Or why Black Jenny seemed to pleased to have a right arm again, or why Jaan Magna kept opening and closing doors and yelling ‘haaaaah!’ as if to prove she had mastered basic two year old skills (Apparently she’d had a drawback that stopped her from opening doors for some reason… who can’t open a door?)
Zane’s cadre of lunatics had filled through earlier to regale me with their adventures in mad science, degenerate socio-politics, and just on time delivery… something that made me all the gladder I hadn’t had to spend a decade anywhere near anything created by Matt Groening… though my friends seem to have enjoyed it for inexplicable reasons. I couldn’t even blame the personality overlays, because Zane and Meetra had gone with the Delivery Boy Identity, which was the drop-in option. Of the others, Kendra, Gaius, and Reggy were Spaceship Captains, Uriel & Bao were Insane Professors, and Kagetane was a Robot… why anyone would want to be a Bender unit (so called because, apparently, they bent girders for construction… I thought girders were supposed to be straight) escaped me, but it certainly wasn’t the most insane thing anyone had ever done in my presence. Kendra had complained that Zane had insisted on taking a 100 point drawback called ‘Hhhuuuwha?” that made him absent-minded and gave him a loose grasp on reality despite the fact that that put the group at 1600 for no return at all. In fact, Kagetane had already taken a major hit for the group cause by taking the monster ‘Why Not Zoidberg?’ drawback which was apparently a bad thing to be… all I know of Zoidberg is that he’s a quasi-sapient lobsterman… and Kagetane was apparently him for a decade. Whatever. I wasn’t going to push for more information.
Too much information was, on the other-hand, provided by those who’d spent their decade in the MuppetsVerse. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like muppets and love Treasure Island… but the idea of spending a prolonged period of time in the Muppet Carribean sounds like being trapped in a very special level of hell. So being treated to a lite-opera performed by Toph, Caine, Bart, Buji, Simon, Lizzy, and the junior members of house Gaius in which they regaled me with the tales of their adventures in that very special level of… well… it was better than being trapped there, but let us just say that having emotional control does wonders to keep one from screaming obscenities at grown ass adults who decide to waste five hours of your life (no matter how long said life might be), singing about the adventures of A Treacherous Pirate (Toph), A Clueless Pirate (Caine), a Blind Naval Officer (Bart), two Clumsy Naval Officers (Invidius & Scipio), two Gluttonous Cabin Girls (Placida & Lucida), a Sweet Polly Oliver (Lizzy), a gold obsessed Pig-Barbarian (Simon), and a Pig-Barbarian named (I kid you not) Lurches-Around-Yelling-About-Candy-but-is-Diabetic-so-Don’t-Give-Him-Any-Rogers (Buji). I was on my best behaviour and didn’t attempt to vaporize, freeze, or sic Ziggy on anyone involved. I promise. I merely considered it and smirked a lot.
And considered what, exactly, might be available to purchase in the Babylon 5 Jump. Finally, my absentee friends departed, leaving me time to actually consult with the Chamberface about that subject, and to be, faintly, disappointed by the results. Babylon 5 is a rich and nuanced setting and I’d watched the entire series at least a dozen times over the years before I’d left Origin Earth… yes, even the dreaded ‘Grey 17 is Missing’ which is just garbage of the first water. It is a setting with a good dozen interesting alien races, from the deeply religious and warrior Narn, to the spiritual and deeply divided Minbari, to the clueless but tough Drazzi, to the carrion-eating anti-social Pak’mar’ra, to the insectile Gaim, to the Abbai, Hyach, Dilgar, Drakh, Llort, Markab, Brakiri, and Vree… and of course, the conniving and hedonistic Centauri, the manipulative Shadows and Vorlons, and Humanity itself. The jump… had exactly one of those. Give you a guess.
Ding-ding-ding… that’s right, humanity. At least 15 different alien races… and we could be human. WHHHY? Not saying I wanted to be a Vorlon… not that I’d have said no… or maybe a Shadow? I don’t know! But seriously… even cutting out the big two… the fact that Narn, Centauri, and Minbari weren’t on the list was just… weird. The pricing was even weirder and the structure was just… odd… but I’ll get to that as it comes up.
“So… I have to be human for this?” I asked the Chamberface.
“Well, you have to begin as a human. What you chose to do from there is anyone’s business.”
“I can’t be a Vorlon.”
“You can’t be a Vorlon. No.”
“You also can’t be a human from a million years in the future.”
“Well… that’s no fun either. So… what can I be?”
“Your Origin Choices are ‘Drop-in’, which inserts you just as a your passenger shuttle docks with the station, giving you a passport to get through customs and a storage locker containing whatever you purchased as well as a receipt for a week at a nearby hotel. Comes free with the perks Iron Will, Stone Cold, and Asceticism.” The Chamber supplied.
“Wait… the Drop-in comes free with three perks?” Yuzuha asked, floating a few klicks closed to the Chamberface.
“Indeed. More freebies than any of the Origins that cost stuff, but no discounts.” Chamber confirmed. “And the total cost of those three is 800 CP. Shall I continue?” See what I mean about strange? I grunted and the Chamber resumed. “The other origins all cost 100 CP and include Earthborn, Martian, Colonist, Spacer, Lurker, and Earthforce Kid. Earthborn get Iron Will free, a discount on joining Nightwatch, and an in-universe rep for surviving the Earth-Minbari war. And yes, before you erupt in paroxisms of outrage, you do have to pay to join Nightwatch.” I frowned, but waved for the Chamber to continue, already crossing Earthborn off the list of possibilities.
“Martians gain their choice of Mechanic, Miner, Surveyor, or Salvager for Free and a discount on another of those two. Colonists get Stone Cold free and a discount on an Alien Artefact. Spacers get Asceticism free and their choice of discount on Mechanic, Pilot, or Hyperspace Awareness. Lurkers, which should clearly be a drawback origin, gain no freebies, but gain a discount on CQC, Asceticism, Stealth, Tough, Stone Cold, and Criminal Tendencies… and are the only ones who can buy the Thieves Guild perk.” At this point Yuzuha kindly floated one of her command consoles closer so I could bang my head against it rather than interrupting the Chamber’s flow. “And Earthforce Kids start having just finished basic training before being assigned to B5. They gain the Marksmanship perk free, gain a PPG and a suit of Earthforce Armor free, and gain a discount on ‘A Conspiracy of Light’.”
I opened my mouth, then closed it with a sigh as Yuzuha interrupted to ask what a PPG was and Chamber explained it was the Earthforce standard side arm, a phased plasma gun. Once that exchange was done, I finally spoke. “Okay. Fine, clearly arguing with this half-baked, no perkline having mess is going to be a lost cause… but please, tell me, how mundane are the items for sale?”
“I shall give you an example in the form of the PPG… it is completely normal for this setting and comes with nine free seven-shot power caps. You can buy an extra power cap for 5 CP each, or 10 CP for Armor Piercing, or so called Slammer Caps, or Anti-Personnel Jammer Caps. If you buy extra caps, you gain a cap recharging station free. However, you can buy a Minbari Gravitation ring for 400, an AI named Sparky for 400, an Apocalypse Box which sounds like it should be something you should be getting points back for, and either a Soul Globe or the Centauri Eye… none of which seem particularly useful or worth the points.” the Chamber opined.
I groaned. “Yet another waste of effort. So, what’s the drawback limit?”
“It does not say there is one in the Drawbacks section, though there is not a particularly vast selection. You can be Agoraphobic to the extent of shakes and distraction for 100, Claustrophobic to the psychotic episode in an elevator level for 300, Attractive to the less human inhabitants of this world for 200, An Earthforce Person of Interest for 300 which means they’ll send money and personnel trying to get you into a testing lab, a Herald of Order for 400 which means the Shadows will try to kill you with assassins until they lose their tempers and send four battle-crabs to destroy you and the entire station, an Exarch of Disorder for 400 which is the Vorlons screwing with you in less overt ways, and The Third Place for 500 which sics the race that nearly ate the Vorlon Empire whole in a day on you.”
“Mmmm…. Well, good good. Some options. So, tell me, why would I pay to be a member of the Thieves Guild, Nightwatch, or… what was it? The conspiracy of Light?”
“Good way of putting it. They are mutually exclusive. The Thieves Guild membership nets you a Hyperion Class Heavy Cruiser.”
“Hyperions are the blue ones without gravity sections? Good lord… what a waste of points. I can pirate about with one of Earthforce’s least powerful battleships. Weeeee… Tell me the other two are… wait, Nightwatch gets a Battlecrab and Conspiracy gets a Whitestar, don’t they?”
“That would be the case, yes.” The Chamber agreed.
“Great… is that all? I mean, is there actually any perk value to Conspiracy of Light?”
“It… maybe? The text could be read in that way. It says ‘You do what you can to help smooth out problems and settle arguments and slowly it gets you noticed. You put in the effort and people will always be happy to see you turn up. You’ll always have backup and when people have something to space, chances are it’ll be sent your way. Today maybe you can find a hungry family a meal, one day maybe someone will need two hundred tons of medical supplies and it’ll take you maybe fifteen minutes to arrange that.”
“Uh…. right… Sure. How much is that trainwreck?”
“500. You actually want it?”
“You have no idea how cool I thought the Whitestars were when I was younger. Plus, they can make jump-points and have Vorlon tech and I’m going to retroengineer the shit out of Vorlon and Shadow tech. So, yeah. I’ll go Drop-In. Let’s be mysterious. Not like I can be anything cool.”
“You could be a telepath,” The Chamber suggested.
“I am a telepath. I’m a telepath so powerful I’d be able to swat Psi-Corp. Also a Telekinetic… wait… are you saying I can buy Telepath Rank 13?”
“Well. you could buy Telepath for 600 and Telekinetic for 200 more. You may or may not turn into a transcendent being of pure thought though… oh, and Psi-Corp will be hunting you and if they catch you, your journey will be over.”
“Heh. Unless it comes with a mental shutdown key that actually works, they’d need the Vorlon Empire to capture me. Sure, why the hell not. 800 CP. Whatever. Bring on the hyper-evolution.” I leaned back and patted Yuzuha’s command throne and sighed “I don’t suppose this train-wreck has a companion import at all?”
“Negative. Will you be invoking the Global Rule?”
“Yeah… that’ll take 1700 CP total and I’ve got nothing that the Floating Discount can apply to, so I need 700 CP worth of Drawbacks. Give me Person of Interest and Herald of Order. That’s 700 and I’m good… oh, what do the Drop-in Freebies actually do?”
“Iron Will is a willpower boost that makes an otherwise normal human have willpower strong enough that only the most powerful telepaths could read their thoughts and only after hours of utterly exhausting effort. Stone Cold keeps anything from shocking or surprising you. And Asceticism allows you to survive on far less food and sleep than the average person without harm.”
“Well… they’re free… Now, I guess I need a companion list. Yuzuha, you want to come along? If you do, I’ll let you decide if you want to absorb the Whitestar once we leave this place, if that’s okay, Chamber?”
“That is acceptable to me… and from the dancing of the furry green avatar, I’d assume your flagship is imagining rubbing it in both Jenny and Paradise’s faces.” I looked over and saw caricatures of Black Jenny and Paradise Draken getting pie in the mush from a Yuzuha wearing a big white star on a black t-shirt. I rolled my eyes, but didn’t criticise my often pouty planet killer.
“Well, then… Yuzuha, AJ, Petra, Francine, Amelia, Carwyn, Mini, and Frankie. Let’s get my telepaths and fighter crew on deck and we’ll do this.”
“Awwww…” Yuzuha pouted. “I can’t buy that thing with the telepathy and telekinesis that makes you an energy being!”
“My dear, sweet, often silly Tree Ship… you’re an incredibly powerful warship who can shapeshift, create and control her own dimension, and occasion steal souls and destroy planets. You don’t need to be an energy being… among other things, you can become an entity of pure shadow if you want to.”
“Oh. Right. I’m cool. I suppose I should take that perk that makes it so I can’t get lost in Hyperspace… or anywhere else, huh?”
I quirked an eye at Chamberface, who nodded that that was, in fact, a perk on offer in this jump, then smiled and patted Yuzuha’s Avatar. “Yes. That sounds like a good plan, you do that.”
“Yay! I’m clever!” she proclaimed, then spent five hours spending 700 points, finally settling on the Space Origin… which was the only one which got the Hyperspace Awareness perk on a discount, picking up the Marksmanship perk (which really was impressive, as in 300 CP for a perk that allowed one to shoot one’s wing of choice off a ‘space-wasp’ with one’s eyes closed impressive) and the Miner perk which was… not impressive, but if you’re a sapient starship with planetbuster weapons, mining is really not much more than finding some asteroids or comets and opening fire at really low setting. She squandered her final 25 points getting caps, but really, there wasn’t much worth less 200… it was a very questionably priced Jumptree apparently.
In the time it took Yuzuha to finish her plotting and scheming and occasionally getting distracted and playing with dolls (she’s not the most mature planet busting space tree in existence), everyone else had, of course, finished their builds as well. Carwyn was also a Spacer, but one with local medical training. The Mon Squad were all Martians, with AJ specializing in Salvage Mechanics and Criminal Behaviour, Petra as Miner Mechanic with Toughness and Stealth, and Francine being an Iron Willed Surveyor who’d apparently lucked into finding a Minbari Grav-Ring somewhere. Amelia, Mini, and Frankie… the Cat Squad I guess, were all Earthforce Kids, but while Mini and Frankie were Iron Willed Pilots, Amelia had decided to go full Telepath which had, of course, eaten all her points effectively and would be raising some questions with PsiCorp no doubt.
And speaking of my own problems with PsiCorp, I considered my options, then did some editing to my basic loadout… which of course included exactly one item besides the clothes on my back… a Passport. The drop-in origin came with a new form, as always… but the passport didn’t, technically, have to match it. Nor did the origin text specify where the passenger shuttle I was on had come from. I looked over the details and smiled… then hit the confirmation lock.
“Princess Snowjaeger?” Zack Allen, Babylon 5 station security asked as he looked down at the screen of his passport chip reader.
“Yesss,” I half-hissed through three inch long canines. I’d missed this form. “Doctor Snowjaeger, actually, though I am a Princess as well. I will say I take greater pride in the professional title than the hereditary one, as I had a part in earning the former, but not so much the latter.”
“Huh?” the none-too-bright but very earnest human said.
“This,” I said, tapping his screen. “Is me. Please forgive my english. It is such a verbose language, much less emotional than my native tongue.”
“Oh… yeah… I get that… you’re some kind of catlady?”
“I am the duly appointed Magi Ambassador to Babylon 5. And yes, I apparently resemble a Earth predator known as a Snow Lynx to some degree, though only to the extent that perhaps a Narn might resemble a Komodo Dragon or a Centauri might resemble any number of different crested fowl. Are you going to allow me aboard or shall I return to my ship and await permission from someone more senior?”
“Oh. Right. Sorry… Umm… technically, I don’t think anyone was… you know… notified the Magi… aren’t they supposed to be, you know, mythical?”
“Obviously not, nei?” I asked, studying my tear-drop shaped claws with that kind of practiced nonchalance that triggers an atavistic fear of impending and impromptu visceral violence in those creatures who’d evolved in the veldts and forests of Africa.
Zach was not immune to that effect and hurried pressed his comm unit and whispered that he needed someone from the command staff to respond immediately… he even added please.
Of course, this meant that the first major player to arrive was none other than Londo Mollari, the Centauri Ambassador and in no way part of the Babylon 5 command staff or Earth Alliance diplomatic staff. “So, it’s true!” he crowed, wobbling a little as he was more than a little inebriated, having no doubt sauntered up from Casino. “One of the legendary Magi has decided to grace our efforts! Surely we shall have Peace in Our Time!” he half-bellowed as he waved his wine glass vaguely in my direction.
“No, Ambassador. We will not. Destruction, Betrayal, and Tragedy ride three-abreast on swift-winged steeds,” I purred, nodding to where the inimitable Lieutenant Command Susan Ivanova was rapidly approaching, frowning at the presence of the currently laughable Centauri Ambassador.
“Ambassador Snowjaeger?” the station XO asked as she snapped to attention in front of me.
“Yes… that is how my name is pronounced in your human tongue,” I purred, then grinned broadly. “I have been informed that the pronunciation in my native language has been known to cause terror in the hindbrains of prey species.”
“Oh? Interesting. I look forward to hearing it some time,” she said with a quirked eyebrow and I almost (almost) squealed with fan-girl joy. Instead, I gave a ripping snarl that caused several nearby individuals to react as if physically threatened, each according to their species’ native reflex. I had calculated the harmonics and subharmonics to trigger primal fight or flight reactions in humans and, in fact, had created an entire language that this was one small example, and it did, in fact, mean One who Hunts in Snow in that language, an important fact when dealing with translation software and people like Ivanova who had eidetic memories. It was fascinating to see who responded and how. Zach, bless his heart, tried to shield a small Abbai woman who’d staggered back into a stanchion at my growl. Ivanova, the Russian Iron Woman, had barely twitched, but most of the other station security goons had reached for side arms. “Well then… Snowjaeger it is, tho the use of German is painful to a good Russian like me.”
I laughed dryly. “My apologies. Jaeger was deemed to be the most… diplomatic and stylistic term by the linguistic board. Okhotnik doesn’t have the same… panache,” I responded in flawless Saint Petersburgian Russian, earning a startled but appreciative nod from the XO.
“Well, on behalf of Earth Alliance and Commander Sinclair, welcome to Babylon 5. Do you wish to formally present your diplomatic credentials to the Advisory Council and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds at this time?” She said formally, switching back to English for the benefit of those around her.
I had been very carefully testing her sensitivity to mental intrusion and, as far as I could tell, as long as I kept it to the local version of my ability, which was currently only a P6 (though it would grow regardless of having bought the in universe upgrade thanks to Three Pounds of Dreams), she’d be able to sense it to some extent. My out of universe talents were different enough that she wouldn’t unless I was very hamfisted. “No. I will wait on their pleasure. I am in no great hurry. I have booked a room at the Grand Zocalo Hotel until such time as I am formally recognized and can move into the Ambassadorial sector. Price should be very little…” I swished my tail away from the grasping paw of a 7 year old human boy without even looking, and continued “problem. But I would like to meet privately with all the various Ambassadors at their earliest convenience… especially the Vorlon. I also would like to meet with the Commander at his leisure, as well as your Chief of Medicine… ah… no, that can wait, I remember that your medical chief has not been replaced yet.”
Ivanova blinked, “We were under the impression that Doctor Kyle would be returning following his debrief on Earth following the… incident. Do you know something about this matter?”
“Indeed. It is our understanding that he has asked one Doctor Stephen Franklin to be his replacement. He will be here in early March. Oh, it is good you are here. This young Centauri gentleman coming through customs now is Vir Cotto. He is to be Ambassador Mollari’s diplomatic attache.” I bowed slightly and stepped aside, allowing the plot to sweep in and reassert its dominance.
A couple days later, after the resolution of the Ragesh III incident, I formally introduced myself to the Council and the League, neatly sidestepping the question of where, exactly, the Magi Worlds were by claiming that my people were largely nomadic, but that our migration would be moving through this section of the Universe within the next few years. Meanwhile, as I spoke aloud of how pleased I was to join such august an assembly, I sent out a tendril of thought to the stalwart and silent form of Ambassador Kosh.
~Dying races?~ I snarked, parroting the words he’d spoken to the Station Commander a few days earlier about the Centauri and the Narn. ~Let them pass? Really? Are you so jaded that you would see the passing of any race into the darkness as anything but a tragedy? Has millenia of stewardship over the younger races been lost on you, you cowards?~
Thoughts can carry weights of emotion that mere words have no chance of matching, and the ancient Vorlon’s surprise and anger and fear at the casual contact and revelation of sensitive knowledge and chastisement. It had been a very, very long time since anyone had dared mouth off to the Vorlon Naranek (trans. One Who Speaks). ~You speak of what you cannot know,~ he responded. ~Such things are inevitable. Regretting the inevitable is as meaningless as mourning the sunset.~
~If you have cannot mourn the sunset, it is you who has become lost. The inevitability of loss is no reason to ignore the pain of it, any more than the inevitability of sunrise is any reason to ignore the beauty of it. Each thing is, in its time, special, unique, and worthy of attention. The humans have a poet who said, ‘Do not go Gentle into that Goodnight. Rage. Rage against the dying of the Light’. To forfeit your stewardship over a race merely because you believe it doomed is to admit that you have failed in your task. And since you claimed that task for yourself, such failure is tantamount to admission that you were unworthy of the position.~
His suit’s one eye swivelled to watch me as I continued my hissing sibilant speech to the League, and he asked, ~Do you intend to interfere in what is to come?~
Without looking back, I favored the Vorlon with a wintery mental smirk. ~Of course. Interfering is what I do best. Oh. Tell your people that the Magi will not stand for genocide. If you or the others bring out your planet killers, we will bring out ours… and we will not spare your worlds.~
~You dare claim such authority?!~ There was real anger there.
~We do. Pick any world in any system… uninhabited if you please.~
~And what will you do?~
He chose. I reached back in time with a flick of will and decided that Viggo had been dispatched to that system three days ago, a world on the far edge of Vorlon Space, in a system devoid of life, a solitary brown dwarf orbiting a nearly dead neutron star. The planet exploded within ten seconds of the Ambassador’s choice. ~I invite you to send your scouts to that system, then come to find me. We shall speak again then.~ And I closed my mind to the Vorlon as I finished my speech to the younger races.
“You wanted to speak to me, Ambassador?” the station’s commercial telepath, Talia Winters asked.
“No. I merely desired to think at you, Human Telepath,” I responded, gesturing for her to join me at my table in the Zocalo.
“Are your people…” she frowned, taking a seat and clutching her gloved hands together. “I’m sorry, I don’t know the diplomatic way to ask this, but… do your people have telepaths? I know the Narn used to and the Centauri and Minbari both have them, but we don’t know very much of the Magi… the legends are so vague.”
“Yes. We are all able to communicate mind to mind, that much is true. Some of us have more potent talents.” I slowly rotated my glass, liquid and all, through all three axis without touching it physically.
“And more. Yes. Feel free to mention this to your controllers in the Human Corp of Mind Hunters. They will learn about it sooner or later.”
“I… I don’t report to PsiCorp, but if they ask… why did you wish-” she jumped as I snarled at that word. “Why did you… want?” I nodded and she continued, “to… think at me?”
“Because you are special, Talia of the Winter. Winter is very important to my people and so are names.” I did not explain to her that she’d been conditioned with a sleeper personality named Control, one designed to effectively kill and replace the Talia personality upon the administration of a telepathic command, a sleeper personality that was constantly listening, watching, waiting to betray… whoever. Sorry… spoiler warning, I guess. I also didn’t explain to her that, while we sat there, I was mapping her entire psyche, both her current personality imprint and the one of the sleeper.
At the moment, Talia was nothing more than a P5, bog standard for a commercial telepath, her mind was an open book to my generations of psychic mastery and the fact that I’d already scanned both my own current human form and Amelia’s, learning the ins and outs of the local psychic template. While it would take me days to do so, I had every intention of underwriting Control with a reversion engram, subborning its erasure of the Talia persona and replacing it with merely a swap of which was sleeper and which active… and a process which, when triggered again, would grant the Talia personality access to all the knowledge and memories of the Control personality… while erasing the Control’s preprogrammed behaviours and ideology. It would be a very subtle piece of psychic surgery, and one I’d have to monitor to make certain neither Talia’s friend Ironheart (the only known P20 plus) nor Alfred Bester, the PsiCop sensed them or altered them with their various mental tampering.
“That is not an answer,” she said.
“No. It is not. We Magi are curious creatures like that. We seldom answer questions with actual answers. We find answers to be so… limited.”
She laughed. “Well, that’s… unique. So… we just sit here and think at each other?”
“Yes. Do not worry. I shall be…” I licked my fangs. “Gentle.” That, of course, provoked the atavistic fear response I’d hoped for, which allowed me to invade the most basal part of her Medulla Oblongata, slipping the lynchpin of my reprogramming into her reptilian hindbrain, a place it would be unlikely to be detected by any but the most perceptive scanners.
The first Shadow Assassin came for me within the month, towards the middle of March, 2258. They failed to appreciate how hard I am to kill and did not live to report back to their controllers.
Alfred Best (one of the series most significant antagonists) and Jason Ironheart (the soon to be godlike energy-being) arrived on the station at the end of April and I took a few minutes out of my busy day hiring Lurkers for off-station employment (most of Babylon 5’s lurkers were simply too poor to get back to one of their people’s other colonies and I felt like using money to fix a problem for once) to speak with Jason about higher order psychic abilities. I helped ease him through some of the harder transitions, but mostly I wanted to be near him when Bester arrived. I had plans for the PsiCop.
“Well, you handled that… poorly,” I commented as Bester was preparing to leave the station. The P12 had no idea I’d been lurking about, scanning him far deeper than he’d imagine was possible. He jumped in surprise as he realized someone he could not sense was standing behind him in the station’s exodus lounge.
“Who are you?” He asked, eyes widening as he realized I was a human (I wasn’t in my Magi Princess form at the moment) and that he was getting not so much as a whisper of thought from me.
“That is a good question. The Vorlons are very fond of it. Not my favorite question, but a good one. My name is Simone Justice, and like Jason, I am both a telekinetic and telepath… but more stable than him… and stronger. I know what you’re planning… I know what you want. And I can help you… for a price.”
“I don’t negotiate with Blips. I hunt them down,” He tried to pull his PPG on me, but frowned as he realized he couldn’t move his hand.
“Yes. I am aware of your reputation. Also of your numerous crimes against both humans and human telepaths. I could vaporize you here and now, just like Jason did to your colleague, but I believe we can be of assistance to each other. I will help you become head of PsiCorp, and you will make your assets available to me,” I said, peering straight into his eyes, not allowing him to blink.
“I… would… never…” He gasped, wanted to flinch from the incredible psychic pain of resisting my mental problem.
“Oh. You will. And you won’t even know you’re doing it…” I whispered, then faded from his perception basket as he blinked and looked around, unable to remember what he’d been doing or who he’d been talking to. I hadn’t changed him very much… just a little bit of deep cognitive programming, not enough to change his overall behaviour, but enough to ensure that he’d be more useful and less of a war criminal following Earth’s Civil War. I was aiming for an outcome where the PsiCorp did not ally itself with the usurper Clark and his Tyranny. If I did this right, there would be no Psi-War to rock the Earth Alliance and hopefully I could head off the second Earth Civil War scheduled for 500 years down the line. The deaths of 12 billion people could still, hopefully, be averted.
In May, the Dilgar general Jha’dur, a war criminal and last of her people, arrived on Babylon 5 to peddle an anti-aging drug that carried with it the stupidest and most easily circumvented cost for clinical immortality in existence, or so I thought from watching the show all those years ago. Her Anti-Agapic as she called it required a key component that couldn’t be synthesized and had to be fatally harvested from other living beings… which she predicted would see the rest of the universe fall upon each other like wolves… never mind that she (in the show) never says ‘Other sophonts’… just other living beings. So, you know… cows. Even if it had required other sophonts… clones who could be designed never to develop higher brain function. See, this is the kind of stupid some writers get into when they’re not sciencing hard enough.
Also? Fuck off with ‘can’t be synthesized’. Any chemical can be synthesized. That’s how bodies do it. In the end, the Vorlons used their high handed authority to tell other races ‘you’re not ready for immortality.’ after blowing up Jha’dur. Or at least that’s how it had gone.
Instead, I’d strode into medbay as Jha’dur was gloating to Dr. Franklin about all the horror that would be her monument, and said, “Actually? No. I stole a look at your substance… it’s clever. But the key ingredient can be easily replicated in a bioreactor.” Watching her face fall as she believed every true word I was speaking… ah… that’s true schadenfreude. “Oh, and the Vorlons are going to kill you when you leave the station.” And then I left. I’d considered eating her soul, but letting her stew would just be way more fun.
When Kosh later told the Council ‘You are not ready for immortality’, I just laughed.
“So says one of two members of this august body with it. Tell me, Ambassador, were your people ready for it? Can any people ever really be ready for the changes that immortality will bring?” I asked, running my claws over his encounter suit and making everyone else in the chamber decidedly uneasy. They’d been uneasy since the Narn had demanded proof that the Magi deserved anything more than the right to sit and listen. I’d called Odwet out of hiding and had the 2 kilometer long (babylon 5 is only 8 kilometers long) living metal space-dragon demonstrate the scale of his weaponry on some nearby asteroids… before disappearing without anyone able to figure out how the hell he’d gotten into or out of the system. The idea of the Vorlons with their unknown techlevel and the Magi with our unknown techlevel feuding was not something anyone in the council was looking forward to.
Kosh merely fixed me with his suit’s oculus.
“Didn’t think so,” I said. “But in an act of good faith, the Magi are feeling generous and present you all with an anti-gerone genetic therapy treatment which we are all certain your various techbases should be able to adapt to your particular biologies and which should grant you lifespans of up to three times your native ones, though of course, application in early adulthood will have greater efficacy than in later life.” I could feel the irritation boiling off the Vorlon as I spoke… they really hate chaos and disobedience to their plans. “And as a special bonus, a quasi-universal anti-viral. You’ll want to be careful with this one, as it does make retroviral treatments for congenital issues harder, but it should cut down on your disease rates. All the documentation will be made available, free of charge.” and with that, I flicked Kosh on the helmet and departed the chamber, leaving them abuzz.
“Hello Ambassador,” said the man in the black suit.
“Hello, Mr. Morden,” I said as he entered my office. “What do you want?” I asked, smirking through my fangs.”
“That is exactly what I was going to ask you,” He said, smiling. His invisible Shadow Minders spread out to either side of him as the door to the office slid shut. They were going to strike if the meeting did not go the way they were planning.
“Yes. I know it is. But I wasn’t talking to you, puppet. You just stand there,” I said, nodding slightly. Within a moment, Petra had immobilized the Shadow on the left, while Francine had immobilized the one of the right. Petra’s technique involved a hammer… Francine’s involved a crushing ball of air… I honestly had no idea which of the Shadows was currently in more pain. “Now, Morden. Go back to your people and tell them that I’m not playing their game. I’m not on your side. I’m not on the Vorlon’s side. I’m on the side of me. I like the younger races more than either of you, and while I like the Vorlons a little more than I like you, that’s mostly because of who their allies are. You’re both a bunch of genocidal assholes who’ve forgotten how to play nice… so I’m here to remind you. I hear you’ve brought your planet killing clouds out of storage and I will turn Za’hadum it into floating dust. If you’re very lucky, I’ll give Lorien a couple minutes to get out. You tell your handlers that. And tell them my question, “What gives you the right?” When they can answer that, you come back and see me.”
I nodded, and the two dead Shadows crumpled to the floor, leaving only their agent behind as I leaned over my desk, fangs bared, claws crumpling the plasma-steel. “Run along now, puppet.”
He fled. The second shadow assassination came a day later. They tried poison this time. Yawn. Almost made me miss seeing AJ beat up the Shorim and earn the Magi the right to fight in the Mutai. It’s a small thing… but he didn’t use any powers to do it. I’m so proud of him. He’s feisty.
Oh, and though it’s a little thing, I did have to stop by medlab and save a little boy named Shon from the idiocy of both his parent’s religious nonsense and Dr. Franklin’s inherent lack of respect for anything outside of his own narrow perview. Long Story Short, Shon has a blockage in his airsac (like a lung but different enough to have a different name) and it’s killing him. The parents religion forbids cutting into the chest cavity, believing that the soul will escape. This is, of course, stupid… but Franklin refuses to understand how much they value their beliefs and operates anyway (even after the parents demand intercession from all the various ambassadors to stop him). The parents then euthanize their son. It’s an incredibly divisive episode and one that JMS, the show’s creator is very fond of because he says it makes good sci-fi and it’s not the kind of thing you see on most sci-fi shows. He’s right. It’s a good concept and done fairly well and has no easy answers.
He also compares it to ‘The Cold Equations’… which is one of my absolutely least favorite sci-fi stories for any number of reasons. The biggest ones are that if the ship was that precisely balanced, the mission would be doomed anyway because getting it up to speed would have taken more fuel and the amount of fuel needed to decelerate wouldn’t exist. There’s a reason why real missions like this have leyways… especially if it’s a lifesaving mission. You put a lot of failsafes into place when people might die. Second… there should not have been a place for a person to hide inside that transport. There didn’t need to be one except that the story demands it. Third, apparently no one thinks to check the weight balance or security for this mission.
Sure, sure. That’s not the point. The point is that space is unforgiving and people die… but if you have to torture logic to make your point, you fail as a writer. And Shon’s story is about a failure as a writer. It’s a failure because the writer doesn’t know medicine. Even in the mid 1990s when the show was airing, endoscopic treatments weren’t uncommon. Angioplasties were known things and no blockage to a breathing tube should require chest surgery. You stick a tube down the primary air-access (i.e. throat), and you scrape out the blockage. If it’s on the other side of a filter membrane, maybe you have to cut through the filter… but if it’s a filter that normally allows the flow of air through it, you should be able to cut part of the filter then suture it back together once you’ve got the blockage clear. This wasn’t a tumor removal. This wasn’t something that needed open chest surgery. At most, it should have taken a few stitches. And that killed it for me. If the kid had had alien chest cancer that had to have surgery… whatever… but this was bad medicine.
Of course, I am fucking amazing. I have loads of tech and magic and like making stupid people feel stupid. I also like saving the day. So I did. I explained to the parents that there was a local race called the Soul Hunters, who possessed the ability to capture souls as they left the body. I explained that, like a Soul Hunter, I had similar technology (not the least because I’d gotten a look at some Soul Hunter tech and re-engineered it). I further explained that I was giving their entire race access to an offshoot of this technology that kept the soul within the body so they could safely perform such surgery in the future and they should present it to their priests and doctors for review… I also explained that Dr. Franklin was an idiot and had clearly never heard of targeted medical nanites and that no such surgery was needed. I used a micro camera to show both the doctor and the parents the process of clearing out the blockage without any kind of significant surgery.
I could have done it with magic. I could have done it with a transporter. I could have done it a lot of ways. But I felt that if anyone should be arrogant, it should damned well be me. Also, Dr. Franklin is an asshole a lot of the time. He’s one of those doctors who thinks he knows better than anyone else what’s best for that person. Even I’m not that big a bitch. I don’t tell people ‘No! You can’t have a single slice of cake on your birthday!’. I find a way to minimize the damage while allowing people to live their lives. Too many doctors think longevity is the only factor of a good life, and Franklin… he’s one of them. At least at this point in his career.
This was my modus operandi. I had very little desire to interfere in the broadstrokes of the history as it played out around me, but with my ability to trace the unfolding of futurehistory in broadstrokes, I could see where I could push and pull at the fabric to create a better outcome, a more stable, more refined, more streamlined path into the future. I used my money, my technology, and yes, my military power, to nudge things however I wanted.
The Akdor situation was one of those moments. One of the more entertaining episodes of the show was calle GROPOS, or Ground Pounders, and it demonstrated how the soldiers on the ground are often little more than expandable pawns to those in power and or command. The Earth Alliance (now under the control of the Usurper President Clark (he having arranged the assassination of President Santiago to whom he was VP), who was not yet a tyrant) had made an agreement with the Sh’lassen Triumvirate (a very minor polity) wherein the EA will assist the ST resolve their civil war (mostly localized to the planet of Akdor) in exchange for basing rights in the system. The cost in human lives would be high, as the fortress of Matok (the rebel stronghold) was known to be a veritable deathtrap.
Instead, I arranged to steal Earthforce’s thunder right out from under their nose. To that end, as General Richard Franklin left Babylon 5 aboard the EAS Schwarzkopf with the 356th Infantry Division, I dispatched the Conquest Class Star Galleon Faustian Bargain, a ship laid down in the time of Warhammer 30k and designed to allow the original Rogue Traders to conquer entire star systems in the name of the Emprah, to the Akdor system. I had very little concern about the Sh’lassen Triumvirate’s internal politics. They were not important on a galactic scale and barely registered on a local scale, being essentially a Luxembourg sandwiched between the Narn and Centauri. Even if I’d felt entirely for the rebels (which I didn’t, they were assholes) I’d have known their rebellion was doomed and not bothered to save them.
And so it was, that, when EAS Schwarzkopf and her escorts and troop transports arrived in the Sh’lassen system, they were welcomed with the news that the Magi were already in the process of reducing Matok to rubble. No one in Earthforce had ever even considered the idea that a warship could be as large as Faustian Bargain, a massive 5,100 meters with armor plates meters thick and clocking in at an absolutely obscene 30 megatonnes (that’s a mass well in excess of 20 tons per cubic meter, or an order of magnitude denser than steel… with most of that mass coming from armor and hull members. Do not fuuuuuck with Warhammer ships.). They had no way of knowing that her main armaments had been rebuilt with Magi Collapsed Time Cannons… all drawing on the frankly ridiculous amounts of power a Star Galleon’s engine could generate… they also had no way of knowing that I’d given all my ships reverse-engineered Necrontyr Inertialess Drives, with both propulsion that shamed Trek Warp-drives for realspace FTL and SWars Hyperdrives for longer range just to make things so much less fair. The Magi designed Harmonic Phase Shift drives were less useful in galactic space… but they’d make getting between galaxies so much simpler if I ever needed to. Crossing a million lightyears in 20 seconds was seldom of use when one was just cruising down to the shops for dilithium and kyber crystals, but the Paradox Exclusion Field Drives were fine for cruising around the neighborhood at speeds under 2,000 lightyears per hour, even if you did need to be a precognitive to pilot one at anything above 60.
Not wanting to be Vorlons, AJ was more than willing to explain that the Magi had decided to do their new friend PFC Dodger a favor. Of course, the idea that the Magi would dispatch a battleship that dwarfed all known warships merely to ‘assist’ some unknown and utterly unimport human that they’d apparently met the night before and shared no more than a few drinks with was utterly horrifying to every sane Polity (the Drazi thought it made perfect sense). How could anyone account for a nation with that kind of power that made policy level decisions on such flimsy and random a pretense. The EA immediately issued a directive that no members of Earthforce were to have unauthorized interactions with any member of the Magi Hegemony… which was promptly rescinded when someone clearly pointed out that it was extremely likely those same Magi might take such an order as a slight, and that we might, in our annoyance, stop providing free anti-piracy escorts to all shipping in the sector…. What? I had to keep my people busy doing sooomething! I have a lot of people. Viggo alone has tens of thousands of fightercraft!
I did nothing to halt the Narn-Centauri War, though everything in me wanted to. No path through the future that did not require me to dominate the minds of the majority of both races would serve as well to shape a better future for all, and it is not always my place to step in, though my terraforming technology would be made available to both races once their times of trials had come through.
Meanwhile, I took advantage of the discord caused by the war to begin bringing smaller polities into the Magi Hegemony through combinations of economic and technological inducements, though even there I was careful to limit the amount of tech they were actually getting to a marked improvement but not gamebreaking level. I even managed to save a small, but reasonably varied population of Markab from the plague that would have destroyed their entire race. Sure, it would take them millenia to recover, but that’s what you get for being superstitious idiots.
In December, Lyta Alexander, Babylon 5’s first telepath and now servant of the Vorlons returned, warning of the sleeper personality within someone close to the command staff, and leading to the triggering of the Control persona within Talia Winters. For a few hours, It seemed like Control had won, at least to those who could not see inside her head. Instead, when Ivanova confronted Talia, the script went a little… awry.
I’d not only spent the last two years shoring up Talia’s core personality, but bolstering Susan’s latent powers. I knew she’d never want to be a full telepath, but the closeness of a telepath’s connection to those she loved had always been a source of strength to Susan, a mark of how much she’d connected with her mother (a telepath who’d been driven by PsiCorp psi-blocking drugs to kill herself). In that moment, the blocks I’d placed inside Susan fell away and she reached out, mind to mind, with Control, hammering past the artificial personality’s defenses as if she had the key (she did, I am great like that), and searching for some spark of Talia left within.
Of course, I’d rigged that contact to be the counterstroke, the trigger that would allow the Talia persona to fight back, drawing on Susan’s psychic strength to oust Control. It was all very touching and would have made for excellent TV… certainly better than the horror show that was the Susan-Marcus relationship… uuugh. Note to self, punch Marcus when he shows up… several times. To say that Lyta was shocked by how quickly Control had been eradicated (after I had helped verify that that was the case) was an understatement. To say that Susan was panicking a little over the revelation that she could initiate mind to mind contact was also a bit of an understatement, but all involved felt that such information didn’t need to be passed on to PsiCorp, since (at the moment) it seemed she could only do so with another telepath.
And so, 2259 ended and on the sixth of January, 2260, I was invited to tour the first White Star… where I had a few words with Marcus Cole (a Ranger who had issues with understanding the limits of relationships… please don’t make me get into how creepy his canon is). “No matter how much you may think you love someone, that doesn’t give you the right to treat them like your property, you dense human git,” I explained to him as he lay on the floor bleeding from a split lip. Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about, but I didn’t explain. I can do Vorlon inscrutability… sometimes… usually after the punching stops.
This was the year the Shadows and Vorlons stopped moving around the edges of things and started moving openly. It was also the year the Earth Civil War began and the year the Shadows decided to move against me with their battle crabs.
Babylon 5 had seceded from the Earth Alliance after the Clark Administration started bombing Mars. The League of Non-Aligned Worlds had agreed to help defend the station, but by the end of the year most had pulled their ships away to protect their own, ever more strained, possessions. I’d allowed the station to be placed in jeopardy specifically hoping to draw the Shadows out at this time, and they complied, launching their all out attack within the day of Sheridan’s departure with White Star 1 for Z’ha’dum. Babylon 5 at that time had a couple Drazi Sunhawks and Odwet in close support.
To say the Shadows were expecting the sudden appearance of Jaan Magna and Paradise would have been like saying that people expect the Spanish Inquisition. No one expects the appearance of two Warhammer 30K starships unless they know they’re dealing with Jumpers, and who ever expects to run into one of us? Look, Jaan Magna is a huge ship. She’s the same size, give or take 10%, as Babylon 5, and far more heavily armed and armored… but Paradise is titanic. At 36 kilometers, she’s more than four times as long as B5 and close to twice the length of the Executor Star Dreadnaught of Return of the Jedi fame (I could have pulled her out too, but I was aiming for things that were less iconic to human audiences).
Still, the big ships were merely for distraction, because at the moment those two unfolded above and below the station, Yuzuha was unfolding from her humanoid form into her starship form, and if you think four thousand battle crabs could stand against a Jurian First Generation Treeship with her inhibitors removed, you’ve sadly misjudged how powerful battle crabs are. The four attacking the station were carved in half by two Wings of the Dark Hawk in less time that it takes to describe it and their plasma beams splattered harmlessly off of Yuzuha’s remaining Wing like water off a Stygian Class War-Duck’s back… no, I don’t know what a Stygian Class War-Duck is… but I now want one.
Eventually, the Second Shadow War came to an end and Sheridan and Delenn kept giving me one of those looks everytime time they saw me prowling around the Zocalo. It was clear they had a question, but were holding off asking out of politeness. Finally, I confronted them in the Council Chambers, and Sheridan, always the blunter of the two asked “I thought all you first ones were leaving the Galaxy to us younger races.” Sure, it wasn’t phrased as a question, but it’s the substance that matters.
I blinked, then laughed. “Do I look a million years old to you?” I asked, chuckling. I waved away the question, then hopped up onto one of the tables and sat there, facing the two of them. “The Magi are not quite 15,000 years old. We’ve bought or stolen or developed all our technology, but we’re not that much older than any of you younger races… We’re just better at dealing with the First Ones from experience… and perspective.”
“Perspective?” Delenn asked.
“Yes, well… you younger races have to relearn lessons over and over again… the Magi don’t. We have kept perfect records from the beginning of our culture and never had a crisis of leadership.”
“You’ve never had a civil war?” Sheridan asked, sounding like he was having trouble with that idea.
“Technically? We have had some minor squabbles that might qualify, and we’ve certainly had our share of less than stellar leaders… Sherry-jo comes to mind… oh she of the Sandwich fixation… and we’ve absorbed smaller cultures who suffered from their own civil wars, there has never been a culture-wide schism among the Magi Hegemony.”
“How can you have had perfect records from the beginning of your culture?” Delenn asked, “Wasn’t there a period before writing?”
“Our King-Priests, the Manifest, have been blessed with a perfect memory and we are capable of communing directly with our gods at need,” I half-explained, neglecting to point out that I was both the Manifest and the entity that the Manifest was a manifestation of. Sheridan looked dubious at that, but I shrugged. “Would you like us to get the hell out of your galaxy? We’ve been taking bets as to whether or not you’d try to evict us too.”
“I assume you might object to any such attempt on our part? And I’m guessing that you’re the reason that Lorien seemed so… confused and uneasy?” Sheridan asked, referencing the fact that the oldest being in the Galaxy, Lorien the First One, had never been particularly comfortable around me and seemed at a loss for how to deal with my… let’s call them excentricities.
“Oh. If you ask us to leave, we’ll leave,” I said, buffing my claws on my uniform. “We aren’t ones to stay where we aren’t welcome… but we’d be terribly sad to leave early.”
“You could conquer this entire area without too much effort, couldn’t you?” Delenn asked and I nodded.
“Well, without too much military effort. The cost in lives would be unconscionable to us and the hassle of maintaining our dominion an unwelcome expenditure of energy. It is not the Magi way to obtain Conquest Victory. Cultural Victory is soo much more… satisfying. We like it when people demand to join our club and won’t take no for an answer. Allowing them to conquer themselves for us, as it were.”
“Does that happen often?” Sheridan looked suspicious and Delenn outright worried.
“Of course it does. The superior culture has little to fear from contamination with inferior cultures. The stronger ideals will win through every time since they allow for a stronger culture. We Magi have very strong ideals… sometimes fun ones too. But we only accept willing converts… or criminals that cannot be allowed to run free for the safety of others. But they don’t get any cake.”
“Cake?” Delenn asked.
“Really? You force Sheridan here to go along with all your thousand and one Minbari traditions and haven’t ever bothered to learn anything about human customs. And you, Sheridan, no Cake? How dare you! You two are coming with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“The Zocalo to Bar Ziggy! We must correct this Cake Imbalance immediately!”
And then they won the Earth Civil War. Okay, okay, it took more than cake. An Interstellar News Network crew arrived on B5 to create a propaganda film by utterly misrepresenting heavily edited footage. Of course, I’d arranged to copy all the original footage and leaked it, unedited, into the Earth Alliance data-net. The Thirdspace Invasion happened a bit after that, but Yuzuha ate the Thirdspace fleet for lunch and complained of a stomach ache for two days after. And, of course, there was that whole creation of the Interstellar Alliance thing.
Thankfully, this time around, Ivanova was made CO of Babylon 5 and no one had to put up with Elizabeth Lochley… uuuuugh. Also, the fact that Mars had been aided by PsiCorp in the Civil War meant that Telepaths in the Earth Sphere no longer had to join the now quasi-independent Psi-Guild as Mars had none of Earth’s requirements governing telepaths. It would take a few years to iron all that out, but… eh… what’s time but a clock counting?
This also meant that Mars, not Babylon 5 became the center of the Telepath resistance to the doctrines of the hardliners, and sure, Bester was never going to be a good person, but telepaths were his people and I’d seriously revamped his core directives… only fair considering what he’d done to Garibaldi in order to get him to find the Anti-Telepath Virus (which I’d not only neutralized but inoculated every telepath I could find against. Fucking anti-evolutionary idiots.) And then… five years were up and something strange happened.
“Chamber? Why am I here?”
“There has been an update.”
“Yes. for Crusade.”
“But Crusade won’t begin until 2266 or 2267!” I complained.
“That is true, but it was determined that the 5 year mark was more thematic to initiate the change over. Also, it was felt you could use more challenges.”
“Whoever is running this upstairs is a lunatic,” I muttered.
“Clearly. Are you ready to begin?”
“Only if I get to be a Minbari this time.”
“That is entirely up to you,” The chamber said, as the world faded around me and I found myself inside the Chamber itself, the walls decorated with all manner of new options.
“Why do I have 2000 CP to start?” I asked, instantly suspicious.
“Oh. Yes. well, remember how nervous you made Lorien?”
“Well, all the Old Ones have talked it over, and none of them are all that certain you should be allowed to remain to influence the younger races.”
“So, they’re coming back to… pursuade you to go beyond the rim… or else.”
“And if I do that?”
“You fail the jump.”
“So… I’ve got to deal with all the First Ones and Old Ones… and keep from being driven out of known space or I lose?”
“That would be the case, yes.”
“I see… Why did it just change to 3000?”
“Oh. Someone at higher pointed out that if the First Ones were hunting you, you might as well be hunted by everyone else. So now the Drakh want to capture you to make you convince the Shadows to stay, the Earth Alliance has issued a capital warrant for your arrest and the ISA will extradite you, the Narns have learned you could have stopped the war and so the Thenta Makur Assassin Guild will be hounding you non-stop, everyone’s convinced you were being the Dilgar Invasion and are thus a secret space Nazi, and, as a Minbari, Alcohol makes you go psychotic, and changing forms won’t fix that. As a bonus, you get a free Dilgar form.”
“I… See… you people really like taking the micky, don’t you… fine. Bring it on. But I’m putting you all on my list. Just you wait.” I sighed and shrugged, wondering how many technomages I’d have to poke in the metaphorical shnoz before this decade was up.
“Just a question… why is being a Minbari so important to you? They’re no superior to most of the races you can become and you could shapeshift to look like one without significant effort.”
“Because being a Minbari as a racial pick comes with the experience of having been raised among the Minbari, steeped in their way of thinking and culture. Being a Vulcan isn’t just being a hyperlogical human. Being an Asari is more than being an oversexed psychiclesbian. Being a Tengu is more than being a thieving spirit. Each new race comes with new perspective. It’s more than just being part of a new culture or a new person. Humans, for all their differences, tend to think like other humans, no matter how odd their culture. But alien thoughts are alien. Some of their most basic assumptions don’t even correspond to those a human might make, and exposure to that grants an incredible resource that cannot easily be replicated. Also, cool bone ridge. So, I can pick my race in this? Background too?”
“Yes. Human, Narn, Minbari, Centauri, Drazi, or any ISA race. No Shadow, Drahk, or Vorlon. All free. All the majors and ISA have their own perk tree. Backgrounds are Lurker, Soldier, Officer, Diplomat, Explorer, Professional. Be aware that your new form will be considered a primary agent of the Magi and recognized as such.”
“Yeah, Yeah… mmm… Minbari Explorer. That sounds good. What do I get free?”
“A bony headridge that makes you more resistant to head trauma, extreme resistance to getting lost, a credit chit, an identicard, a comm unit, the clothes on your back, and an updating map of whatever setting you’re in, but which currently shows a detailed map of the local worlds, both inhabited and otherwise.”
“Riiight. Bring up the Minbari Discounts over here,” I waved my right hand towards a wall, “and the Explorer ones over here.” I waved my left hand towards the other wall. From the Minbari list, I bought the 50, 150, and 200 point option, ignoring the ‘Minbari Do Not Kill Minbari’ capstone and the 100 CP ‘The Affairs of Others are not Our Concern’ because both were boring. Instead, I bought ‘Minbari Do Not Lie’ (they totally do at times), even though I could already SPEAK the truth with a passionate declaration, a rep for honesty was always a good idea. ‘Their Cities Are Thousands of Years Old’ made anything I produced harder to break, which was nice for the price, and ‘In Valen’s Name’ meant people were less likely to lie to me and much more likely to at least try to keep their word when they made me promises. Not the best selection, but for 400 total, it was acceptable.
From the Explorer list I picked up two 200 CP perks, ‘So Many Dead Worlds’ and ‘Off Beacon’. The first would making finding ruins with advanced tech and forbidden knowledge much easier… The second would make any attempt to thwart my progress to or from any destination I picked inevitably fail… at least if those attempts utilized any form of dimensional displacement, magical mazes, or unchartable shifting realms of chaos… or similar. So, an army standing in my way might work. A giant wall might work. But just obscuring the path was going to be as useful as giving a spoon a hat. Amusing, certainly, but utterly pointless in the long run. I also spent 200 CP buying a regenerating supply of the local unobtanium, Quantium 40. I had been meaning to see how it tasted… and how it burned.
And then I was out of things I really had to have and had spent merely a third of all the points I had. A quick check verified I could import more companions to B5C, 400 getting each of them a race, calling, and 900 CP to spend, and I quickly selected 8 who weren’t on the first list: Zane, Kendra, Velma, Cirno, Tokimi-Chan, Brigid, The Luteces, and Anne… but that left me 1600 and I was scraping the barrel… so I went looking at the other races… and struck gold.
The Human Capstone was called ‘Of All the Races We Had Encountered, Humans Were the Most Dangerous’… it cost 600, to be sure, but it meant that members of any group I belonged to could utilize any one skill at any time that any member of that group possessed… up to the level of skill that the best of the group could use it… or their natural limit, whichever was lower. That was just… hilarious. Every Magi being able to dance as well as AJ, or sing as well as Tokimi-Chan, or … I considered, then shook my head and decided not to get it. It would be stealing thunder from my friends, each of whom had things they were better at than others and were justly proud of. No. Perhaps it wasn’t gold, but fool’s gold. I went looking elsewhere…
And found the human 400 CP perk instead and just laaaughed. ‘Hold the Line’ was just silly. As long as the perkholder kept fighting, even if flanked and surrounded, a hostile force would not be able to progress past the perkholder towards any further objective. That… was just funny. I took that one. Stealing thunder from enemies is totally fair.
From the Centauri i plucked their 400 CP perk “In The Great Old Days of the Republic’ which guaranteed the rapid and easy growth of any organization I led in size, strength and influence. From the Diplomatic Calling, I picked up the 100 CP perk ‘Could I Please Get a Translation Team in Here?’ which would allow me to pick up even dead languages with just a few weeks of study, and the 400 CP ‘Large Empty Files’ which ensured ongoing reports of ever greater and greater specifics that, within a few years of entry to a setting would have pretty much all the intel on local movers and shakers that there was to get… even the most secretive ones. And from the Professional line, I scooped up the 200 ‘You are Not Exactly in a Position to Bargain’ which meant that people would perceive my services to be of higher quality and value than those of my competitors… or see their own need for my services to be greater, thus giving me the edge in consideration, prices being the same, of course.
I realized I still had my floating discount from Single Shot and applied it to the Quantium 40, then spent 100 CP buying the Diplomat Perk called ‘Next Time, My Way’, which was all about fitting into new cultures indistinguishably and sounded fun… then, with 100 CP left, I bought an updating Resume and my very own Triluminary. One never knew when one would need to detect those with, say, traces of my genetic code… or codes, as it were.
“There. Spent out. Now, let’s get this galactic game of cat and mouse over with,” I groaned.
“Not interested in what your companions bought?”
“I seriously doubt it will have made much of a difference this time round. I’ll ask them once they show up and we can see how screwed we are… dozens of First Ones with a million years of potential tech advantage… you guys suck.”
Next: Assassination Classroom
OMAKE: Relationship Chart
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I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.
AN: Originally, Crusade was slated for jump 236, but I decided to slot it in here instead. While I love Babylon 5, that was largely for the themes of the show itself and not for the universe building, which often had some… issues. It’s not a sandbox I want to play in but definitely a sandbox I want to visit and screw around with. I’ll leave it to your imaginations how the Magi played cat and mouse with the various powers for the remaining 5 years of the decade. I imagine it was a lot of hi-jinks, but nothing that I could write really encompasses the silliness of a giant floating space-head yelling “ZOG!” while chasing a massive chrome sphere with a face on it through hyperspace while the sphere yells back “ZIGGY!” like some kind of demented game of Marco Polo.
If you’re wondering about the title of this chapter, it comes from the four repeated questions featured in the series. The Shadows ask “What do You Want?”, The Vorlons ask “Who Are You?”, Emperor Turhan asks “Why are you Here?” and The Technomages ask “Where are You Going?”. Strictly speaking, Crusade introduces the question “Who do You Serve and Who Do you Trust?” But that’s kind of a cheat as that’s two in one. My question is, of course, “Where the fuck do you get off?” or, in slightly more polite terms “What Gives You the Right?” or “What is your justification for your actions?” As a Jumper, I always worry about what gives me the right to interfere and it’s usually ‘Perspective and power…” but I’m aware I’m playing God, and I don’t think a lot of the people in most settings, especially the ones in positions of power like the Vorlons and Shadows are. The Shadows and Vorlons started out as shepherds and lost their way big-time… though they’re absolutely right to try to drive the Magi out. The Magi would definitely hijack the destinies of all the younger races.
SIDE JUMP: Futurama – 700 CP Each plus a free background.
- Zane (Primary): Delivery Boy (Free), Do the Hustle (Free), Would Move the Stars (100/600), No Delta Brainwave (300/300), ACTOR (200/100), Mathematics (100/0), Hhhuuuwha? (+100/100)
- Kendra: Captain (Free), Genetically Engineered (Free), Pilot (Free), Will of the Warrior (100/600), Sweet, Sweet Candy (300/300)
- Uriel: Professor (Free), Genetically Engineered (Free), Mathematics (Free), Good News, Everyone! (100/600), Rocket Science (200/400), Inventor (300/100), Do the Hustle (100/0), Bureaucrat (+100/200)
- Bao: Professor (Free), Genetically Engineered (Free), Mathematics (Free), Good News, Everyone! (100/600), Inventor (300/300), ACTOR (200/100), Do The Hustle (100/0)
- Gaius: Captain (Free), Genetically Engineered (Free), Pilot (Free), Wave after Wave (200/500), Sweet, Sweet Candy (300/200), Would Move the Stars (200/0), Head in a Jar (+200/400)
- Reggy: Captain (Free), Genetically Engineered (Free), Pilot (Free), Sweet, Sweet Candy (300/400), Worms of the Cologne (400/0), Shut Up and Take My Money (+300/+700)
- Meetra: Delivery Boy (Free), Do The Hustle (Free), No Delta Brainwave (300/300), Would Move the Stars (200/100), Mathematics (100/0), Brannigan’s Command (+300/+1000)
- Kagetane: Robot (Free), Bending (Free), ACTOR (100/600), Upgrades (200/400), Backup (300/100), Mathematics (100/0), Why Not Zoidberg (+600/+1500)
SIDE JUMP: Muppet Treasure Island – 700 CP Each plus a free background.
- Toph (Primary): Pirate (Free), Professional Pirate (Free), Musical Number (Free), Clothes (Free), Mutiny (300/400), How Does She Do That? (400/0). Treachery.
- Caine: Pirate (Free), Professional Pirate (Free), Musical Number (Free), Clothes (Free), Just the Ship’s Cook (200/500), Compass (200/300), Black Spot (100/200), Treasure Map (200/0). Clueless
- Bart: Officer (Free), Capital Fellow (Free), Musical Number (Free), Clothes (Free), Lifeboat Checker (200/500), Loyalty (300/200), Ship (100/100), Easter Island Head (100/0). Blind.
- Invidius & Scipio: Officer (Free), Capital Fellow (Free), Musical Number (Free), Clothes (Free), Loyalty (300/400), Sailing For Adventure (400/0), Slippery Hands
- Lizzy: Cabin Boy (Free), Smart As Paint (Free), Musical Number (Free), Clothes (Free), Sailing for Adventure (200/500), I’m Dead (200/300), Capital Fellow (100/200), Are You Kidding? I Love You Guys (100/100), Compass (100/0) Cabin Fever.
- Placida & Lucida: Cabin Boy (Free), Smart As Paint (Free), Musical Number (Free), Clothes (Free), We’re Shipmates, Aren’t We Jim? (300/400), Untorturable (200/200), I’m Dead (200/0). Glutton.
- Buji: Native (Free), Savage Strength (Free), Musical Number (Free), Clothes (Free), Native Charm (200/500), We See You Have Boom Boom Sticks (300/200), Tribal Headdress (100/100), Easter Island Head (100/0). Big Fat Ugly Bugface Baby Eating O’brien.
- Simon: Native (Free), Savage Strength (Free), Musical Number (Free), Clothes (Free), We See You Have Boom Boom Sticks (300/400), Mr. Bimbo (100/300), Are You Kidding? I Love You Guys (100/200), Untorturable (200/0). The Love of Gold.
SIDE JUMP: Call of Duty – 700 CP Each plus a free background.
- Yuzuha (Primary): Infiltrator (Free), Specialist (Free), That’s Classified (Free), Nobody Ever Looks Up (100/600), Fuck That Guy (200/400), That Was Awesome (Free), Fucking Laser Sights (200/200), On My Authority! (200/0), Mute Charge (Free), Hoverbike (Free), A Debt to Settle (+300)
- The Bookers: Insurgent (Free), Infiltrator (Free), What Pressure? (Free), Bigger than Any of Us (Free), Start Over From Zero (200/500), That’s Classified (Free), We’re Smarter Than This (300/200), Fuck That Guy (200/0), Nigerian Clothing Simulator (Free), Mute Charge (Free), You Could Have Had Everything (+300)
- Odwet: Marine (Free), Atlas (Free), Press F to Pay Respects (Free), Down and Dirty (Free), Atlas Zero One (200/500), Your Worst Nightmare (Free), The Way Forward (200/300), Democracy (300/0), Variable Grenade (Free), Viewing Devices (Free), Made of Irons (+200)
- Windjammer: Marine (Free), Operator (Free), Press F to Pay Respects (Free), Down and Dirty (Free), Old Sergeants (200/500), OORAH! (Free), Why’d They Leave the Keys In? (200/300), Regeneration (200/100), That Was Awesome (100/0), Variable Grenade (Free), Breaching Charge (Free), You Rely Too Much On Those Things (+300)
- Black Jenny: Infiltrator (Free), Operator (Free), OORAH! (Free), E&E Mode (100/600), That’s Classified (Free), We’re Smarter Than This (300/300), Fuck That Guy (200/100), Nobody Ever Looks Up (100/0), Breaching Charge (Free), Mute Charge (Free), One Wing (+200)
- Ark Magna: Marine (Free), Specialist (Free), Press F to Pay Respects (Free), Down and Dirty (Free), Old Sergeants (200/500), That Was Awesome (Free), Fucking Laser Sights? (200/300), Brace and Return! (300/0), Variable Grenade (Free), Hoverbike (Free), Limp Noodle (+200)
- Faustian Bargain: Specialist (Free), Insurgent (Free), What Pressure? (Free), Bigger than Any of Us (Free), He Knows (200/500), That Was Awesome (Free), Fucking Laser Sights? (200/300), Brace and Return! (300/0), Nigerian Clothing Simulator (Free), Hoverbike (Free)