Author's Note: Just so you know, this fic is a stand-alone and not a sequel for To Live and Die as One. Lots of Galen here nevertheless. And much hurt and suffering. You have been warned. (-evil grin-)
So, the story begins.
Captain Matthew Gideon stared at the scaly face in front of him. The green eyes were fierce, and numerous rings and spikes pierced the scales, sticking out into all directions. His opponent was unlike any Drazi he had seen before, but it was only suitable that he looked so warlike. After all, this Drazi was Gideon's enemy.
Like in all the previous fights, there was a nagging voice somewhere far away, in the back of his head, that said that he shouldn't fight. That this Drazi had done nothing to him. It was a weak voice that he could easily put aside. He had to fight the Drazi, like he had fought all his previous opponents.
They would fight until one of them faced the greatest humiliation of all, losing the battle and dying. The other would receive the glory and honor of victory, and would go on to fight other, stronger opponents. Defeating them would bring even more glory.
The Drazi let out a feral growl and charged.
Galen stormed into the bridge of the Excalibur, taking in the scene around him. The officers at their appointed posts were there, taking care of their required tasks. In front of the captain's chair stood lieutenant John Matheson. To the lazy observer he was as calm and cool as ever, his face revealing nothing at all. Still, there were small signs - how he constantly changed weight from one foot to the other, the way he stood, the way he kept glancing at the communications console. Matheson was clearly distressed. It was no surprise to Galen. After all, he knew the reason for it. Captain Gideon was missing.
Galen walked straight to Matheson and asked, "When did you last hear from him?"
"We haven't heard anything from him, or the two crew members that were with him, since we lost him down there," he told, pointing at the screen, which was dominated by a close view of the planet below.
The planet carried a curious resemblance to Mars. Its surface was mostly barren desert with ragged cliffs and red sand. But unlike on Mars, where most cities had been built in large domes, here on Sozirja, they were underground. There were almost no signs of sentient life on the surface itself, only the few spaceports and numerous small entrances to the cities below, difficult to notice if one did not know about them.
"And the same would apply to his last known location?"
"I only know where we split up in the capital city. After that, no one knows. He never showed up at the rendezvous and never contacted us."
They both knew well that Matthew would certainly not leave his ship and crew without any note or message if he could send one. He had not been able to come to the meeting place, and he had been unable to contact his ship. He had to be in serious trouble.
Galen had tried an electron incantation with Matthew just before he entered the bridge, and it had been an odd one. Matthew had attacked him the instant they saw each other, with no explanation, without even one intelligible word. It had not been as if he had had a quarrel of some sort with Galen, because then such a fierce, almost animal assault would have made no sense. It was as if he had not recognized him at all. Although Matthew could do nothing to harm him in the incantation, all Galen's attempts at communicating with him had failed. It had not offered much of an explanation. It had only served to make him more anxious.
Luckily Galen had also set a probe on Matthew. He had checked it earlier as well, and it had showed nothing of use. Just a sparsely furnished room where Matthew had been, apparently alone. Now he looked again, and the view was completely different.
The microscopic probe rested on Matthew's shoulder. It showed a rogue-like Drazi standing in front of him, gazing menacingly. Blood was trickling from the Drazi's mouth and many of the decorative piercings on his face were askew. As Galen watched, he saw Matthew launch a furious attack, flinging a fast series of punches and kicks at the Drazi. The Drazi fought back, but he was slower, looking tired and drawn. He went down. Apparently Matthew had won. Why he had fought the Drazi in the first place was a complete mystery. Through the limited view his probe offered, Galen could not be sure if Matthew was injured as well.
Galen did not tell Matheson what he had seen. Instead, he posed another question. "What are you going to do about this situation?"
"There's no way we can find him from up here, unless he manages to contact us somehow. I've already sent one search team down there, but so far they've come up with nothing at all. I'll be sending more men to help in the search."
"You must, of course, go on as you see best. I shall join the search myself, and I will go alone. I have means at my disposal that your men lack. I would prefer your men to stay out of my way. I'll try to maintain contact with you, if possible."
Careful preparation was always the most important part, whatever the task ahead. Considering this particularly important task, Galen had begun with gathering all the information he could find about what he might be facing on the planet.
Sozirja was originally a Drazi colony, founded a hundred years ago by an anarchist fraction that had strongly opposed their culture's tradition of periodic division to green and purple and fighting for the winning color. Since it had been a free world with very loose ties to its home world and government, it had quickly become a popular place for other non-wanted people, those who needed to hide, or those whose business could not stand direct daylight. It was a particularly good hideout since the nearest jumpgate was in another solar system, so there was little traffic.
The Drazi origin was almost forgotten these days, although the descendants of the first settlers still formed a major part of the population. Aside from them, there were groups of nearly all known races. There were even some sightings of drakh and streib. Galen did not know if those were just the usual spies and agents enjoying the suitably shady environment, or if they might be independent individuals who were not serving the general cause. All in all, Sozirja was a world similar to many others, shabby, difficult, unfriendly to officials and law-enforcers, but, in its own harsh way, welcoming to almost anyone else.
Matthew, along with several members of his crew, had first set foot on Sozirja because of nothing more than a rumor. It suggested that an ancient and wise alien of some unknown species who had an extensive knowledge of medicine lived among the assorted entrepreneurs of the planet. At some point along their search, Matthew had decided that they should split up. He had given a time and a place for rendezvous, which he and his companions had then failed to reach.
Galen had only returned when Matthew was already missing, so he had not been there when they had left the Excalibur. He had his doubts about this rumor, and he would have wanted to accompany the group had he been there. But his absence had been necessary, his mission a very important one, and he did not regret it. Although, should he fail to locate and rescue Matthew, so that his necessary absence would be the cause of Matthew's demise, he would certainly come to regret it.
Even though Galen knew as much as there was to know about the planet, he did not have many clues as to what Matthew's situation was at the moment. He was glad he had a probe on Matthew, since he could simply locate it and follow it to Matthew's physical location, but he didn't know if that would be enough. Maybe Matthew was heavily guarded, and Galen would have to find a way to distract or fight a whole regiment of angry natives. Or maybe Matthew was in no trouble at all, simply just in an awkward situation where it was important that he did not contact the Excalibur for one reason or the other, and Galen barging in with firebolts and lightning would not help at all.
Galen accessed the probe again, and found out Matthew had returned to the small, sparsely furnished room. It seemed he was lying on a bed - maybe he was asleep, or meditating, or recuperating from injuries he had suffered in the fight with the pierced Drazi. He had to be alive, since it would make no sense at all for him to be in that room if he was dead. At least that was what Galen told himself, and what he wanted to believe.
To reassure himself, Galen tried the electron incantation again, and found that Matthew was indeed alive. Alive and kicking, just as mad as he had been before.
Galen chose not to land at the spaceport, but in the shadow of a nearby rock formation, his ship covered with illusions. At the port, he would have had to face some officials, no matter how sloppy and non-inquisitive, and he would have had to follow the standard protocol in leaving the planet. Instead, he wanted to have his ship somewhere that was quick enough to reach by foot, and even faster to leave behind with the ship, in case they needed to run away from something.
The spaceport was still the nearest entrance to the burrowed city below, the largest of the five major cities of the planet, generally considered the capital, although such terms did not mean much on this world. Galen covered the distance to the entrance on a flying platform, surrounded by a shield. The planet's atmosphere was slightly more hospitable than that of its lookalike Mars. There was more oxygen and not quite as much carbon dioxide, so one might survive short times without a breather mask. It might prove an important detail if they got into a lot of trouble while escaping, but he hoped that would not be the case.
It was an easy thing for Galen to enter the spaceport and mix into the crowd. He had spent time considering his plan. The two basic options were entering as a techno-mage and showing off as much as possible, deliberately drawing attention, or then doing the opposite, going in disguise and trying to go unnoticed. He had opted for the latter, since although the former might have been the more efficient way in some things, the risks would have been greater, and it might have brought unwanted attention to Matthew as well. So, he wore a full-body illusion, appearing shorter than he truly was, slightly thicker, with short sand-colored hair and a plain dark blue suit. No one looked at him twice - he was not interesting enough, since he did not look like an easy target nor a particularly threatening person.
The signal from the probe did not come from very far away. Matthew was still in the capital, but at some distance from the place where the teams had split. The place was far enough that walking would take too long, so Galen took the local train. The station was busy with all kinds of people, most of whom concentrated furiously on doing their own business and ignoring everyone else, eyes turned to face the bare metal floor or to the bright advertisements on the walls. It reminded him of the tube on Zafran 8, so long ago, and with that came the memory of Isabelle and the time they had spent together on that world, her home. It was a painful memory, but one that he cherished. He spent most of the way, only two stops from the spaceport station, lost in those thoughts, although a part of him was constantly and carefully observing the surroundings.
Galen left the station to find himself in a part of the city that was fancier than most, cleaner, more decorated. Even the people looked richer, wore better clothes and carried more sophisticated weapons. The street, which of course was actually a tunnel dug into the planet, was lined with a few shops that showed expensive wares from several different worlds, and a large amount of restaurants, night clubs and bars.
Matthew's signal originated from beneath one of the night clubs, which made sense as a potential place to look for information about an ancient alien. However, it made little sense as a place where Matthew seemed to spend most of his time sitting alone in an ascetic room, while occasionally beating up a Drazi. To the outside, the club - Red 'Zirja Nights - was much like all the others, except for a posh marquise of red velvet. It seemed to be favored by the younger people, with drazi, centauri and humans as the dominant groups.
Galen spent a while observing the club from the outside. He planted probes on several people who approached it, and found out that the club was strictly exclusive. Anyone wishing to enter needed a membership card or an invitation signed by a member, unless they were with a member at the moment. Inside, there didn't seem to be anything unusual about the club. The decor followed the style suggested by the fancy marquise, comprising of velvet curtains and antique furniture, and a long bar of polished mahongany. Most of the tables seemed to face a railing that traversed the side of the room opposite the bar, but unfortunately the person carrying Galen's probe took a seat at the bar and stayed there, sipping his drink and chatting with the Drazi barkeep. Another probe-carrying person took a seat at a table, but Galen's bad luck continued, as the table was one of the few that weren't located near the railing. Yet the place seemed to be all about that railing. Most of the people were gazing at something over it, cheering or pointing at things.
Galen decided to check Matthew's probe before going in. To his surprise, it showed something different this time, a long corridor lined with doors, like in a ship, or a hotel, and Matthew was walking along it. He reached the end of the corridor and a door with a complicated-looking lock system, and a Drazi stepped out from behind him to open it. Matthew stepped forward, entering what looked like a large, circular area, perhaps an arena of some sort. At the far end of the arena, another large door opened, letting out a Minbari. He looked young, and taking in the shape of his bone crest and his clothes Galen took him to be a member of the religious caste. A metallic device of some sort covered half of his face. He raised his hands in the traditional fighting stance, approached Matthew, and attacked. Matthew fought back.
Matthew fighting a young religious caste Minbari made no sense whatsoever, and the Minbari was acting oddly as well, attacking him without any provocation. Galen would not wait any longer. He moved on to enter the Red 'Zirja Nights.