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3-Out of the Darkness

Peter David

  Table of Contents



  chapter 1

  chapter 2


  chapter 3

  chapter 4

  chapter 5


  chapter 6


  chapter 7


  chapter 8

  chapter 9


  chapter 10

  chapter 11

  chapter 12

  chapter 13


  chapter 14


  chapter 15

  chapter 16

  chapter 17


  chapter 18

  chapter 19

  chapter 20

  chapter 21


  chapter 22


  chapter 23


  chapter 24

  chapter 25

  chapter 26

  chapter 27

  chapter 28


  chapter 29


  chapter 30


  - prologue -

  Hiller of the planet Mipas had always been an enthusiast about Earth history. He wasn't alone in that regard; many of the residents of Mipas shared the interest. Earth history had become something of a fad. But Hiller specialized in one particular aspect of Earth activity and culture, and that was the great art of mountain climbing.

  It was a practice that was virtually unknown among the Mipasians. Not that there was a lack of mountains on Mipas; far from it. There were several particularly impressive ranges, including some that rivaled those scaled by the immortal Sir Edmund Hillary, someone for whom Hiller felt a particular closeness thanks to the similarity in their names.

  However, no one on Mipas had ever displayed the slightest interest in endeavoring to scale any of these peaks. All in all, Mipasians weren't an especially aggressive race-they preferred to live their lives peacefully and avoid the notice of the more aggressive and bellicose races that populated the galaxy.

  Hiller, though, felt the urge to tackle the mountains.

  They seemed to taunt him, their peaks shrouded in cloud and mystery. It was said that gods resided up there. Hiller didn't lend much credence to that theory, but nevertheless he simply knew that, sooner or later, he was going to have to try to find out for himself.

  " Why? " his friends would ask him. " What is this need? Why this driving ambition to clamber up the side of a protruding geographic formation, at great personal risk? " Hiller would always give the exact same response. He would toss off a salute with one tentacle and declare, "Because it's there." He was rather proud of that quote, having come across it in his studies.

  Now Hiller was on the verge of accomplishing his most ambitious feat. He was in the midst of essaying a climb up. . . the Big One. The Mipasians had never bothered to name their mountains.

  This one was dubbed the Big One for convenience' sake, simply because it was the biggest mountain around. Many days had Hiller climbed it. Many times had he nearly fallen to his death, dangling by the tentacles before continuing his long, slow, and oozing way up the side. And finally, after many perilous days and nights, he had nearly reached his goal. He had broken through the clouds, and was using a breathing device to aid in his ascent, since the air at the mountaintop was quite thin.

  He felt giddy. A child's wonder possessed him, as he wondered whether he would indeed witness the surprised expressions of the gods, gaping at him, when he managed to reach the peak.

  And then, as he stopped for a moment to rest, he heard something. It was a deep, sonorous sound that at first seemed to be coming from everywhere. It echoed from all the rock walls, its origin impossible to discern. Hiller looked around with frustration, then plunged a tentacle into his pack and extracted a viewer. Mist and clouds hovered all around him, but the viewer could easily punch through and give him a clear idea of what, if anything, lay in the vicinity.

  He activated the viewer and again wondered if he would find the gods waving at him. How amazing-and amusing-would that be?

  After a few moments, he began to discern shapes. They were coming from the north ... no. No, not quite. They were coming from overhead and descending quickly, horrifyingly quickly. Two of them, no, three, perhaps four. It was impossible to be certain.

  What he did know, though, was that they were getting closer.

  The mountaintop began shaking in sympathetic vibrating response to the powerful engines that were propelling the objects through the sky. Pebbles, then larger rocks began to fall, and at first the full significance of that didn't register. As even bigger rocks tumbled around him, though, he suddenly realized that he was in mortal danger.

  He started scrambling back down as quickly as he could, having spotted a cave on the way up that might provide shelter. But it was too late, and he was too slow. A massive avalanche fell upon him and Hiller lost his grip. His tentacles flapped about in futility, and suddenly the mountainside where he had been clinging was gone, and he was falling, unable to stop himself or help himself in any way. Gravity had taken over, pulling him down. He hit a protruding cliff and tumbled off it, hearing things break inside him and not wanting to think about what they were. Then he landed hard on an outcropping.

  For just a scintilla of a second, he thought he actually might be able to survive. Not that he had the slightest idea how he was going to get down off the mountain, considering that he was already losing feeling below his neck. But he reminded himself that it was important to worry about one thing at a time.

  However, the entire issue became academic as the gigantic pile of rocks tumbled around and upon him. He let out a last shriek of protest, frustrated that something so unfair and capricious was happening at the moment of what should have been his greatest triumph.

  Fortunately, the rock slide left his head unscathed. Unfortunately it wasn't quite as generous with the rest of him. His body was crushed, the pain so massive and indescribable that his mind simply shut down, unable to cope.

  And so as it happened, from his vantage point on the ledge, Hiller was able to see the cause of his death with his own eyes. They were huge ships, smaller than the gargantuan cruisers he had seen on news broadcasts, but larger than the one-to-one fighters that were so popular with the local military.

  The style, however, was unmistakable.

  "Centauri," he whispered. Whispering was all he could manage, and even then it would have been incomprehensible to anyone who was listening.

  The Centauri ships moved off at high speed, heedless of the damage they had already left in their wake. Amazingly, the clouds seemed to part for them, as if with respect. Each ship possessed four curved fins, jutting at right angles to one another, knifing through the sky. He was able to see, far in the distance on the horizon, one of Mipas' largest cities. The ships were going right for it. The velocity with which they were moving was staggering. One moment it seemed as if they were near the mountain; the next they were practically over the metropolis.

  They wasted no time at all. Their weaponry rained death down upon the city. Hiller watched helplessly, his body dying all around him, his vision becoming dark. Because of the distance involved, he saw the flashes of light that indicated that the city was being fired upon, and some seconds later, the sounds would reach him faintly, like far-off thunder.

  It made no sense. Why would the Centauri attack Mipas? They had harmed no one. They were neutral. They had no enemies, nor did they desire any.

  As the world faded around him, his mind cried out to the gods who had not chosen to present themselves, "Why? We have not hurt them! We never could, never would hurt them! What possi
ble reason could they have? "

  And then the words of his friends reverberated through his brain just as that organ shut down for good. His final neurons and synapses answered his own question with another-one that made ironic sense:

  "Why climb a mountain.. . ?"








  Excerpt dated (approximate Earth date)

  May 14,2274.

  It is with some degree of shock and personal disappointment that I must conclude that I am losing my mind. I know this because, for the first time in. . .well... ever, I must admit... I actually felt sorry for Mariel.

  Mariel, for those who have trouble keeping track of all the many players in these diaries, is my former wife. She is also the current wife of our inimitable -thank the Great Maker, for if he were capable of being imitated, I think I would have gone mad sooner-prime minister, the noble Durla. It has never surprised me that Mariel attached herself to him. She has that way about her. Mariel attaches herself to individuals of power in the way that the remora affixes itself to the stork.

  For a time she was with Vir Cotto, my former attache and current ambassador to Babylon 5. Fortunately enough for him, he lost her in a game of cards. I was shocked at the time. Now, in looking back, I can only wonder why I thought of it as anything less than Vir's good fortune.

  More recently, I was walking past the rather elaborate quarters Durla keeps for himself in the palace these days. (Back when he was simply Minister Durla, the minister of Internal Security, he maintained his own residence elsewhere. Since being made prime minister, he has relocated to the palace itself. This is an option open to whoever holds the rank, but most have not chosen to avail themselves of it. Durla, however, is not like most others. He immediately took up residence in the palace and, in doing so, sent me a very clear message, that I shall never be rid of him. That he has, in fact, set himself a goal that is no less than that of becoming emperor.

  Not that he would admit it, of course. There are moments when he directly challenges me, but he always does so subtly, then backs off as rapidly as he can. For someone with such power and dominance, he is really quite craven. It sickens me.

  I wonder why it sickens me. I should be thanking what I foolishly refer to as my lucky stars, for if he had a core of genuine mettle inspiring him, then he would be unstoppable. Durla, however, remains a bully even to this day, and bullies are cowards. He may have gone quite far in our society, but no matter how far one goes, one cannot avoid bringing oneself along. So...

  I was walking past Durla's quarters, and I heard what seemed like choked sobbing emanating from within. Ironic that after all this time, I still carry within me some vague aspect of the gallant. There were guards on either side of me, as there so often are. My aide, Dunseny, was also walking with me. Dunseny, the aging-and-yet-ageless retainer of the House Mollari, used to be quite a bit taller than I was, but he had become slightly stooped with age, as if his body felt obliged to make some concession to the passing years. He actually noticed the sound a hearts-beat before I did. It was the slowing of his pace that drew my attention to it.

  "There seems to be a problem," I observed, hearing the sounds of lamentation. "Do you think it requires my attention?"

  "I do not know, Highness," he said, but he did so in a way that basically carried with it the word "Yes."

  "We can attend to it, Highness," one of two guards who stood at Durla's door offered.

  "You?" I said skeptically. "You attend to things by shooting them. That is not a criticism, but merely an observation, so please take no offense. Far be it from me to offend someone who shoots things. However, I believe I can handle this on my own."

  "Yes. On my own. The way I used to do things before others did them for me." Offering no further comment, I entered without knocking or ringing a chime.

  Passing through the entryway, I found myself in an elaborately decorated sitting room, filled with statuary. Durla had acquired a taste for it. I felt more as if I were walking through a museum than a place where people actually dwelt. On the far side of the sitting room there was a high balcony that offered a spectacular view of the city. I had a not dissimilar view from my own throne room.

  Standing on the balcony, leaning against the rail, and looking for one moment as if she intended to vault it, was Mariel. Normally her face was made up quite exquisitely, but in this instance her mascara was running copiously. The smeared makeup left trickling splotches of blue and red on her cheeks that gave her entire face the appearance of a stormy sky at daybreak.

  Upon seeing me, she gasped and made a vague effort to try to clean herself up. All she did was make it worse, smearing the makeup so grotesquely that she looked like some sort of painted harridan from a stage drama. "I'm... I'm sorry, Highness," she said desperately, her efforts to pull herself together failing miserably. "Did we have... I wasn't expecting a visit from..."

  "Calm yourself, Mariel," I said. I pulled a cloth from the inside of my gleaming white jacket and handed it to her. As an aside, I cannot tell you how much I despise the traditional white of the emperor's garb. Michael Garibaldi, my erstwhile associate on Babylon 5, once referred to it as an "ice cream suit." I do not know exactly what he meant by that, but I doubt it was flattering. I could not blame him, though; there is little about it that I find commendable.

  "Calm yourself," I said again. "We had no appointment. I was simply passing by and heard someone in distress. There are so many distressed individuals out there," and I gestured toward the cityscape. "I cannot attend to all of them. But at the very least, I can help those who are within these four walls, yes?"

  "That's very kind of you, Highness."

  "Leave us," I said to my guards. Dunseny, ever the soul of proper behavior, good tact, and common sense, had waited in the corridor. "Leave you, Highness?" They appeared uncertain and even suspicious. "Yes."

  "Our orders from Prime Minister Durla are that we are to remain by your side at all times," one of them said. I would record here any distinguishing characteristics he exhibited, for the sake of reference, but I cannot. My guardsmen were something of a homogenous lot. The aforementioned Mr. Garibaldi called them the "Long Jockey Brigade," I believe. I am no more conversant with the term "long jockey" than I am with "ice cream suit," but I will say this: Mr. Garibaldi certainly had a colorful way of expressing himself. "Your adherence to orders is commendable," I said.

  "Thank you, Highness."

  "However, you overlook two things. Prime Minister Durla is not here. And I am. Now get out, before I command you to arrest yourselves."

  The guards glanced at each other nervously for a moment, then wisely hastened into the hallway. I turned my attention back to Mariel. To my surprise, she actually seemed to be smiling slightly. Even laughing softly. "'Arrest yourselves.' Very droll, Highness."

  "With all that has passed between us, Mariel, I believe 'Londo' will suffice." "No, Highness," she said simply. "I believe it necessary always to remember your station and mine."

  A remarkable attitude. "Very well. Whatever makes you more comfortable." I took a few steps around the room, arms draped behind my back as if I were on an inspection tour. "So... do you wish to tell me precisely why you are so upset?"

  "I see little point, Highness. It's nothing. A passing mood."

  "Has Durla been abusive to you in any way?"

  "Durla?" The thought seemed to amuse her even more than my passing comment had, moments earlier. "No, no. Durla, in point of fact, is not really here enough to be considered abusive. He is busy these days. Very busy." She looked down, apparently having suddenly taken great interest in her hands. "I do not begrudge him that. There is a great deal for him to do."

  "Yes, yes. Destabilizing the region and sending our world spiraling t
oward certain destruction can be very time-consuming, I should think."

  She seemed surprised by my tone. "He is your prime minister. I would think he carries out your wishes and desires. He serves Centauri Prime, and you are Centauri Prime."

  "Yes, so I hear. The emperor is the living embodiment of Centauri Prime. A quaint notion. A grand custom. I think I like the sound of it more than I do the practice." I shrugged. "In any event, Durla does what Durla wishes. He no longer consults with me, or even needs me." I looked at her askance. "Or you, I should think. Is that the reason for the tears? That you miss him?"

  "Miss him?" She appeared to consider that a moment, as if the thought had never before entered her head. If she was feigning contemplation, she was doing a superb job. "No," she said thoughtfully. "No, I do not think I miss him... as much as I miss myself."


  She made to reply, but then stopped, as she appeared to reconsider her words. Finally she said, "I think of where I intended my life to be, Highness. I had plans, believe it or not. There were things I wanted to do when I was a little girl... not especially reasonable, all of them, but I..." She stopped and shook her head. "I apologize. I'm babbling."

  "It is quite all right," I told her. "In all the time that we were married, Mariel, I do not think we actually spoke in this manner."

  "I was trained to say all the right things," she said ruefully. "Speaking of one's disappointments and shortcomings-that wasn't deemed proper for a well-bred Centauri woman."

  "Very true. Very true." And I waited.

  Again, I must emphasize that I bore no love for this woman. I looked upon this interaction with a sort of detached fascination; the way one looks with curiosity at a fresh scab, impressed that such a crusted and nauseating thing could appear on one's own body. In speaking with Mariel, I was-in a way-picking at a scab. Then, since she didn't seem to be volunteering any information, I prompted, "So... what things did you wish to do? As a young girl, I mean?"

  She half smiled. "I wanted to fly," she replied.

  I made a dismissive noise. "That is no great feat. A simple ride in-"