Pierce the Darkness
The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. A self-contained world, five miles long, located in neutral territory; a place of commerce and diplomacy for a quarter-million humans and aliens.
A shining beacon in space, all alone in the night.
It was the dawn of the third age of Mankind, the year the Great War came upon us all. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
The Drazi transport arrived in the wee hours of the morning, when anyone unlucky enough to be on duty was tired, bored, and apathetic. This was, of course, by design; it was hoped that their cargo would undergo only the most cursory of inspection before being waved on by weary attendants more interested in the upcoming end of their shift than the possibility of any illicit trafficking.
And if the Drazi themselves seemed a little high-strung, well, that was how Drazi were, as a rule. The dock workers, all human, exchanged smirks at the aliens' expense and continued with their work; only four hours to go before they could return to their quarters for some well-deserved shuteye.
Now, if those dock workers had bothered to run a bio scan on the Drazis' cargo—as they really ought to have done—they would have seen that the two not-very-coincidentally coffin-shaped boxes contained humanoid life forms. In the face of this discovery, they probably would have contacted security immediately.
Lieutenant Zack Allan was on duty that night; a conscientious officer, he would have rushed down to docking bay 43 in person, would have impounded the highly illegal living cargo being surreptitiously brought onto Babylon 5, would have sent at least one of them right to MedLab and then woken his superiors to inform them that the Drazi were up to something nefarious yet again.
But history is filled with such for-want-of-a-nail moments, and this was just another of them.
No bio scan was performed; security was not alerted. Lt. Allan was allowed to continue dozing with his feet up on Michael Garibaldi's desk. And the two people who had just been snuck onto the immense space station began another chapter in their already... unusual... lives.
It was only three weeks later, when one of the MedLab nurses was performing the monthly inventory, that the theft was discovered. Doctor Stephen Franklin had an entire closet devoted to various alien gizmos and contraptions; he used them all regularly, not only on the races for which they'd been created but in his tireless xenobiological research. It was possible, he reasoned, that something that worked for one could have its applications on another.
It was with great appreciation of irony that he noted one contraption designed to lower cholesterol in Centauri was instrumental for reducing the likelihood of stroke and blood clots in Narn. Similarly, one device humans employed to reduce motion sickness through manipulation of pressure points was quite effective in eliminating migraine in their one-time enemies, the Minbari.
On and on it went, the inventory list, with everything present and accounted for with a sole exception: the Lifegiver, a mysterious contraption used to heal people by transferring the life-force of another to them. Dr. Franklin had confiscated and locked it away, not allowing any of his staff to touch or even look at it unless taking inventory of it.
Thus it was that the Lifegiver's absence came to be known. It wasn't the best morning for it; the Narn and Centauri were at it again, and earlier that evening gangs of each had gotten into a brawl. Claudette Torrey, a nurse of eight years' experience, had taken advantage of a brief moment of calm between surgeries extracting beer bottle glass from Narn and Centauri scalps to dash through the inventory of the gizmo closet. The weirdest of the gizmos was missing. Dr. Franklin, when informed, looked even more constipated than usual and sighed as he poked at his hand-link to signal Chief Garibaldi.
Garibaldi had been concerned, of course, but with all the fights breaking out and the fear of rioting that could ensue, there wasn't much he could do besides keep an eye out for big table-sized machines with blinking lights that happened to suck the life out of one person to give it to another. In a station the size of Babylon 5, well, let's just say that stumbling across it in the course of a day's business wasn't likely to have the sort of odds Ambassador Mollari would have liked to bet on, not even if he were cheating. Which he would most assiduously protest doing in the first place, of course...
But we digress.
The device's absence was discovered, reported, and forgotten. Every once in a while, Dr. Franklin or Chief Garibaldi spared the odd thought for it, wondering how and for what reason it had been spirited out of MedLab. But time marched on, as time is wont to do.
And thus when the elf who had been smuggled aboard, whose life had been siphoned to keep alive another whose fate was bound to his more closely than he could imagine, awoke in a dingy room in Brown Sector and wondered what by the Valar was going on, there was no one to know or care.
Legolas' first thought, upon waking, was that Gimli would surely appreciate the irony of an elf feeling as if he had a troupe of dwarves in his head, all hammering gleefully as if there were a vein of mithril to be unearthed.
Hand to his pounding brow, Legolas tried to remember what had happened. Elessar had died, then Arwen; he had built his little ship to cross to Valinor, and convinced Gimli to come with him. Surely, he had believed, for a creature as stalwart and brave as the son of Glóin there would be some little patch of Valinor?
But the gods had not appreciated his presumption; not even for two heroes of the Fellowship would their rule be broken. The seas became rougher the further West they had pressed, and Gimli had wanted to turn back, but Legolas would not be dissuaded.
We capsized, he remembered with a jolt, and despair filled him as swiftly as the cold liquid salt of the ocean that had pulled at them with greedy hands. He recalled, dimly, the last pale flash of Gimli's face before the sea tore him away, and then came a wave of his own, a wave that accomplished what centuries of orcs and goblins had not been able.
We died, he thought, incredulous. He had breathed far too much water into his lungs to have survived, and there was no chance that poor Gimli had managed to keep himself afloat—dwarves had a notorious lack of buoyancy, and he was no great swimmer.
We survived, he marveled, for there was no other explanation he could think of. He could feel the entirely of his body, and it was a mass of aches and stiffness. Moving an arm, then a leg, he was startled to feel their weakness, and wondered if he would be able to stand.
Opening his eyes, he felt a moment of panic when there was nothing but an empty black void overhead. Blind! he thought, heart leaping to his throat, but then his elven eyes adjusted and he saw that it was merely a very dark room.
The ceiling above him seemed to consist of a multitude of metal pipes and conduits meandering in impossible tangles, serpentine and mysterious—where did they lead? Legolas decided that his resources were better spent figuring out how to work his feeble-feeling limbs rather than the destination of pipes, and slowly, painfully, dragged himself to a seated position.
At his motion, there was a veritable explosion of light, and Legolas shied away from it, hands clapped hastily over his sensitive eyes against the glare. Cautiously, he looked around for a light source but there did not appear to be one—no candles, no oil-lamps, no flames or fire at all. The light was cold and mercilessly bright, turning his golden skin sallow, and it was then that he realized (upon sight of quite a lot of that skin) that he was completely naked.
No wonder he'd thought there was a draught.
Legolas swung his legs over the edge of where he'd lain, and saw that it was no bed—just a narrow, lightly padded platform. The walls around him were just as the ceiling appeared—dull grey, another labyrinth of pipeworks, all seeming to be fashioned of metal. Extraordinary, to have enough of it to create an entire room...
He stood, knuckles whitening as he clenched the edge of the platform in his determination not to fall. He would not allow the dwarf to catch him flopping about like a landed trout. At last satisfied he was stable, Legolas gazed around him, searching for his companion, but Gimli was nowhere to be seen.
Turning in a complete circle, he saw instead another platform with another nude figure, quite obviously a woman from the shape of her. Legolas took a step toward her, only to be halted by a flash of pain in his foot. Peering down, he saw a tiny clear tube attached to the top of his arch, between the tendons, and seeming to disappear into his flesh.
Alarmed, he grasped the tube and yanked. Another flare of pain, and it came free, spilling a little blood in the process. Legolas studied the end of the tube, and his lips compressed unhappily when he saw a drop of clear green liquid trickle out. The woman's foot, he now saw, also bore one of these tubes.
Drugged, he thought as suspicion reared within him. We are being drugged. Unease filled him, and he felt his muscles tense in preparation of... what, exactly? The room was empty but for the unconscious woman. Someone could come in, though...
He made his way to her side. Petite, with long golden-brown hair, she was pretty but not beautiful. Pale, no doubt from being in this strange room, and with well-formed limbs. Legolas noted that she had far more hair at the juncture of her legs than females of his kind. He hadn't expected a difference such as that. It would seem that elves and men were more diverse than he had thought...
She had many scars. Odd, round little ones on her throat, four long ones clearly from a lucky rake of claws across her right thigh, and various other gashes and slices. The scars intrigued him; it was not his experience that women would be found in the circumstances where one acquire such a network of marks.
She was also quite pregnant. He did not know how far along she was, as his people carried their young for a twelvemonth but he had heard woman bore their children a little less. Arwen had carried her son and daughters for over ten months each, a sort of compromise between her blood and their human father's. Judging by the size of this woman's belly, Legolas judged her to be yet several months from delivering.
She was frowning. He wondered what she could be thinking, unconscious as she was, to put such a fearsome scowl on her face. Perhaps she was in pain, because of the drugs given them. Legolas was by now sure the green liquid was a drug, because even in the brief span since he had removed the tube he felt better, more alert and steadier on his feet.
He did not want to cause her discomfort, but surely having a sedating substance in her system could not be healthy, either for her or the child? He bent to her foot, scrutinizing where the tube entered her flesh, and felt with a cautious fingertip how deeply it burrowed in. Best to pull it out quickly, he decided, and jerked it free with a flick of his wrist.
Her body spasmed once, and she gasped, the sound harsh and grating in the still air of the room. She lay still after that, however, and Legolas estimated it was nearly a half-hour before she began to stir and awaken.
The woman drew her elbows back, trying to push herself to sit up, but the mound of her belly and weakness of her muscles had her collapsing back before she was halfway up. She made a sound of annoyance, and then one of shock and dismay when she brought her hands up to explore why she was no longer so flexible.
She struggled to sit up, becoming more and more agitated until Legolas came forward. "I will help you," he said, first in Sindarin, then in Common, with his hands up to show her he meant no harm. She did not seem to understand the words, but accepted his gesture and nodded shortly even as her gaze traveled over his bare form.
Then she began muttering in a language he had never heard before, sounding derisive and rather foul-tempered. He slid an arm behind her narrow shoulders, helping her to sit, then quickly stepped back. She had by this point realized her own nudity, and tried to pull her hair over her shoulders to cover her breasts. Odd, Legolas thought, how the children of Man were always uncomfortable to be bare before others. He himself stood before her without any attempt to shield himself.
Then she began shouting. Legolas was sorry he did not understand her language, or perhaps he was relieved—she sounded very displeased indeed, and he wondered which of their circumstances in particular had her so angry. Was it being drugged? Naked? Captive?
Likely all of the above. He was none too pleased about their status either, and he was now positive there was a draught coming from somewhere, though there was no window in the dreary metal room, nor even a vent that he could see.
Her face was becoming red from her exertion, and he touched her arm, gesturing that she should calm herself before she harmed her child. She quieted, placing tentative hands on her belly as if afraid of it. She stared down for a long moment, and when she looked up at him again, her eyes were flooded with tears.
She spoke. Whispered, really, in a tone so anguished and mystified that Legolas had little doubt what she was saying though the words were unknown to him. It became clear to him, then, that she was as baffled as to what had befallen them as he was, and filled with concern for her unborn baby.
"We have to escape," Legolas told her, aware of how stupid and impossible it sounded. Weak, unclothed, unarmed, half of them well-swollen with child, their chances to succeed at anything more than laying back down on their platforms were slim to none. He couldn't even find a door to this strange room; there was no variation between one segment of wall and another. Sighing, he returned to his platform and leant against it, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow at her to indicate he was open to suggestions.
She, too, scanned the walls with a sharp gaze, muttering all the while. Then she seemed to think of something, for she looked as if she'd made a significant discovery and began shouting again. He went to admonish her to be calm again, when a strange whooshing noise came from the far side of the room, and a panel of the wall pivoted at one corner to slide away, leaving an opening.
Legolas spun to face it, automatically placing himself in front of her, and aware of her struggling to her feet behind him. He took adverse pride in that; she might be frail as a kitten in her state but she was not willing to fall without a fight. "Good girl," he murmured approvingly over his shoulder to her. She snorted, and he wondered if perhaps she could understand him after all.
Several creatures stepped into the room. They had the height and shape of a human, being shorter than the Eldar, but were utterly hairless, with scaly greyish skin and lipless slashes for mouths. Their eyes were a dull yellow, and when they pointed their hands in Legolas' direction, he saw they had thick claws in place of fingernails.
Were they a new type of orc? Or perhaps demons? He had never seen the like in all his many years, in all his extensive travels the length and breadth of Arda. He saw they were holding things in those extended hands, and realized they were weapons only when a blast of blue light exploded from the items. Cursing himself for his naiveté, he pulled the woman with him in dodging the blast and stared in amazement when it hit the platform she had lain on, shattering it into many pieces.
Then the other creatures were aiming those bursts of light at him, and Legolas found himself hard-pressed to keep moving quickly enough to miss them all. Not once, he saw, did they ever even aim at the woman, let alone try to hit her...
She noted that at the same time, it would seem, for soon enough she was moving with surprising speed and grace for a woman of her increased bulk to place herself between Legolas and the creatures. Immediately they lowered their weapons, talking amongst themselves in tones of dismay.
The woman began shouting again, and the creatures glanced at each other. Legolas realized they could understand her, but his relief faded when they spoke to her and there was no comprehension on her face. But one of the creatures stepped forward, nodding in response to her diatribe, then bowing several times and backing from the room, ushering his companions along with him.
Once the door slid down into place once more, she turned back to Legolas and wrapped her arms over her chest, seeming to find both warmth and comfort in the gesture as she stepped over to the remainder of her platform. She glanced up at him and made a comment, grinning briefly, and he wondered what joke she had just made even as he marveled at her ability to do so in such dire circumstances.
He understood the need for levity, however, and smiled encouragingly at her. Her jaw dropped in surprise, and he could not even begin to speculate what troubled her now. She seemed to flit back and forth between rage and sadness, amusement and stupefaction, so quickly that he had trouble keeping up with her. Humans had ever had odd ways of coping with stress, however, so he decided it was likely just a racial trait.
The whooshing sound came again, indicating the return of the creatures, and this time they rushed in, trying to surprise Legolas as they sent the blasts of blue light at him. The woman grabbed his arm and yanked him behind her, yelling at the creatures for all she was worth. Again, they lowered their weapons and even hung their heads in defeat.
Yet another entered the room carrying a stack of fabric, and it dawned upon Legolas that the woman had demanded clothing. For some reason, not only were the creatures unwilling to harm her, but they were deferring to her as well. He wondered if she could demand a meal for them, and watched as she pointed at the floor, indicating the creatures should leave the clothes there.
Then she shooed them from the room, flapping her hands and sounding like she were scolding them severely, so similar to Arwen when her brood was young that Legolas felt a pang of nostalgia. Once the door was closed, she tried to bend to pick up the clothes but the weight suspended off her front began to tip her over, and only Legolas' quickness saved her from falling flat on her face.
Blushing a little, she said something he supposed were thanks, then retreated to a corner to pull the garb on. Legolas did the same, pleased to see that though the colours were drab, the garments were clean and in good condition, and even fit reasonably well—brown trousers, a bit baggy in the rear, and a beige tunic. There was even a brown belt and black socks, though no shoes.
The woman fared as well—her gown was a dull green, but voluminous and fitting easily over her bulky midsection. She grimaced, hands flat over the rounded expanse, and began to yell some more. She was quite loud for such a little thing, and he was across the room, taking her hands in his and trying to quiet her, before he quite knew what he was doing.
Her face was strained, angry and exasperated, when she turned it up to him, and he saw her eyes were a stormy hazel. "Be calm," he said soothingly, trying to use his most melodic tones to pacify her. "You will make yourself sick if you do not settle yourself."
The door whooshed open a third time, and once again she placed herself between Legolas and the creatures. This time, two came forward bearing trays with plates of food. After they were set on the ground, a third came forward, a small round silver disc on each upturned palm. In the centre of each disc was a short needle-like protrusion.
The creature, speaking all the while, handed one disc to his ally, then turned him around and pointed to the back of his neck. There, at the fleshy part at the base of his skull, sat a silver disc. The creature gestured to his mouth, then his ear, and finally to the disc.
A look of dawning comprehension crossed the woman's face. Legolas felt distinctly unhappy; he had no inkling what was happening, but was alarmed to see the woman reach out and take the offered disc.
"No," he said flatly, and took it from her. "You should not be altered by these things."
She snatched it back, glaring at him, and before he could do anything else, reached up under the fall of her hair and seemed to push the needle-side into her neck. She flinched, but soon straightened up and began speaking.
It became immediately clear to Legolas that the disc was some sort of talisman, for the woman was now conversing freely with the creatures. She took the second disc and came at him, her face carefully bland and innocent, and tried to explain its purpose to him further. It was a wasted effort; he understood completely what it was for, now, but trusted it no more than before.
Sighing, she widened her eyes and looked up at him with such an expression of pleading that he felt his resolution wavering. "No," he said determinedly. "I will not permit you to use that on me."
Her shoulders slumped, and he realized that she could understand him even if she was incomprehensible to him. "I am Legolas," he told her.
"Buffy," she replied, pointing to herself. "Drazi," she said, indicating the creatures, who were leaving the room once more.
"Have you learnt why we are here?" Legolas asked her. She shook her head in the negative, and now it was his shoulders that slumped. "The food is likely drugged," he said when she began to pick through the contents of the trays. "But perhaps you should eat it anyway."
She frowned at him, so he hastened to explain. "You need to keep your strength up, for your child." Her expression darkened at the mention of the baby, though he did not know why. "They do not want to hurt you, for whatever reason. I doubt it would make you ill, just sleepy."
Legolas pushed the tray a few inches closer to her. "Go on," he urged gently. "If you sleep, I will watch over you. No harm will come to you while I am able to prevent it."
Buffy stared at him a long moment, her gaze seeming to search for something she apparently found, because she nodded shortly and began to eat. It must have tasted awful because she grimaced several times whilst eating the green substance and refused to finish the brown substance after a single bite.
And sure enough, it was not long after her last mouthful that she yawned widely. Legolas helped her to lay upon the remaining platform as she was now encumbered not only by her belly but her baggy gown, as well. She fell asleep quickly, and was unconscious for several hours.
The creatures—Drazi, Buffy had called them—came once she was asleep but Legolas placed himself between them and her. He had taken the spoons that came with their meals and broken off the rounded ends, then rubbed them against each other until they had sharp points at one end—hardly his ancient, perfectly weighted, bone-handled daggers but better than nothing.
The Drazi took one look at him and left. He did not flatter himself that it was because he presented such a threat; they probably did not want to be on the receiving end of another of Buffy's shouting fits. He could not say he would blame them, in that instance.
When she awoke, she insisted that he eat, too. He tried to use the lack of utensils as a reason for why he could not, but she would not accept that. Legolas did not like the idea of sleeping, thus leaving her unprotected, but she kept at him until he was ready to do almost anything to make her cease. Besides, he rationalized, scooping up the green substance and prudently avoiding the brown as Buffy had, the Drazi treated her as precious. He did not believe they would harm her.
All too soon, he was feeling drowsy and lay on the platform for his own nap. She gave him a reassuring smile and, oddly, smoothed his hair back from his face. Probably feeling maternal, in this advanced state of pregnancy, Legolas thought muzzily as his mind fogged over. He felt safe for the first time since awakening in this strange place, and slept.