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The ship sang of the beauty of order, the harmony of the spheres. The peace of its silent passage through space, the symmetry of its form, the unity of its functioning wove through its melody. But within the song, Kosh was disturbed.
The maelstrom was spreading.
Only a short time ago, the forces of chaos had been limited to their ancient home of Z’ha’dum. While that planet remained their stronghold, they had now spread to over a dozen worlds in the surrounding systems.
Kosh altered his ship’s song, slowing its speed, drawing it carefully closer to the fourth planet orbiting the star called Thenothk. Near the end of the last war with the ancient enemy, Kosh had visited this place. It had been a sphere of red in the darkness of space, a frigid, barren desert, unable to sustain life. He had left a buoy nonetheless, and over time, it had perceived changes.
Soon after the buoy had begun its observations, a great ship had arrived, an engine of transformation sent by the ancient enemy. It was but one of many sent into the systems surrounding their home, designed to create habitable environments for them and their allies. Finally they had realized their vulnerability in remaining concentrated on a single planet.
Over the years, the great engine released many smaller ones, in wave upon wave upon wave, each designed to perform a specific function. Some took up residence above, some burrowed below, some spread over the land. The planet warmed. Ice frozen for eons melted. Floods raced across the lowlands. The atmosphere thickened, and storms raged through it. Life-forms were seeded and flourished, performing necessary chemical reactions. When their purpose was accomplished, they were replaced with others, one species after the next, until the work of transformation was complete. Gradually the storms lessened, conditions stabilized. From chaos, order came. As was inevitable.
Then other ships began to arrive, and a settlement was built. While the ancient enemy preferred to live underground, they built the majority of this settlement above, erecting structures that would feel comfortable and familiar to many of the younger races. It was to be a place where they could meet and interact with allies, where the maelstrom could present itself with a false face and draw others into its grasp.
The small settlement quickly grew, spreading its tentacles in chaotic form, until now over twelve million of various species lived there. Several other settlements appeared as well, where more secret work took place.
Now the planet was busy with activity, and Kosh took care to make sure his ship was not observed. He directed it to extrude several new buoys, which would take up positions around Thenothk 4 and provide more complete information about the activity occurring within the thick haze of the atmosphere. As the war cascaded from hidden attacks to outright aggression, the Vorlons would need to know their ancient enemies’ actions.
A new harmonic entered the ship’s song, alerting him to the presence of several other probes. They were small, nearly as small as Kosh’s buoys, and they orbited a bit closer to the planet than the Vorlon buoys would. He recognized them immediately. He had come across the probes of the fabulists numerous times. They too observed many things in many places. Apparently, they too found the activity here of interest.
To Kosh, the probes held no negative significance. But some among the Vorlons, he knew, would say the probes revealed a further connection between the fabulists and the forces of chaos, an interest that could perhaps lead to alliance.
Kosh feared that talk of destroying the fabulists would gain strength. Their position was precarious. They carried great power; they could be the pivot on which the war turned. The Vorlons would not allow that pivot to turn against them.
At the fabulists’ recent assemblage, their leaders had decreed that they would go into hiding, that they would leave the coming war for others to fight. Although the plans of the fabulists were always difficult to decipher, Kosh believed this was their true intent. Yet others believed the plan a deception.
Kosh had watched as the fabulists left the assemblage and journeyed back to their homes. A few at a time, they destroyed those homes and set out for the place where they would gather in preparation for their migration. They gathered slowly to disguise their mass activity. Yet soon they must leave, or more among the Vorlons would doubt their intentions.
A dissonance entered the ship’s song, and Kosh saw through one of his buoys that a jagged black silhouette was rising up out of the thick greyish atmosphere. If any would detect him, it would be this monstrosity created by the maelstrom. He would observe it through the currents of the buoy without revealing himself. Kosh directed his ship to withdraw to a safer distance. It obeyed eagerly. Obedience was its greatest joy.
The great black vessel screamed up out of the gravity well. It was an abomination, a failed technology that required at its center a living, intelligent being, enslaved to the needs of the ship and the directives of its masters.
Once beyond the atmosphere, the abomination stopped, waiting.
Kosh wondered if it carried any passengers within, but he could not look inside or he would be noticed. Instead, he too waited.
Shortly, another ship approached, a sleek dark triangle. It belonged to one of the fabulists. Kosh’s concern increased. He located the hidden sign on the side of the ship. This ship belonged to the fabulists’ former leader, Kell. Kell had left the fabulists after his students had joined with the forces of chaos. Since then, he had been searching for those students. Kosh had observed one of them arriving at Thenothk, not long ago. Perhaps Kell had discovered his student’s location. Perhaps that student was even now within the enemy vessel.
Or perhaps Kell had decided to join with the enemy himself. Kosh had believed him an honorable leader, yet the fabulists were in a difficult position, caught between order and chaos. The ancient enemy could have made great promises; the dream of the maelstrom could infect any not Vorlon.
The underside of the black monstrosity stretched open like a hungry maw. Kell’s ship entered the beast, and the darkness swallowed it.
Over the years, Kosh had observed Kell only from a distance, yet now he felt both loss and disappointment. Whatever Kell’s intentions, the fabulist would not leave the vessel alive, unless he swore himself to chaos. He could have accomplished much more in the great war. Instead, with his actions, he might well condemn the rest of his kind.
Many among the Vorlons would believe this another fabulist defection, and would argue with new fervor that they must all be killed, before it was too late. Kosh knew he must take at least some action to placate the other Vorlons.
If indeed more fabulists did consider joining with the enemy, let him frighten them a little. He would destroy their probes. They would believe the forces of chaos had discovered their spying, and had been angered. That, perhaps, would help keep them away, keep them on the path to their migration.
It would also please the Vorlons. They liked to think of themselves as the ones who stood on high and watched, controlled. They did not like to think of others standing beside them, watching as well.
So he would destroy their probes. And then he, alone, would watch. If Kell emerged from the abomination, then Kosh would take the news back to the Vorlons. And it would very likely trigger the destruction of the fabulists.
He hoped it would not come to that.
The others would say Kosh spent too much time among the younger races. They would say he allowed sentimentality to weaken discipline. They would say he had forgotten his place.
But the destruction of the fabulists, he believed, would be a great tragedy.
With a cry of joy, Anna shot up into the sky. The gases of the atmosphere, layers of moisture, pollutants, and dust pressed against her, fighting her forward motion. She disliked spending time on the planet, the atmosphere constricting her, gravity holding her down. She strove upward. The atmosphere thinned, the pressure lessened, her weight grew light, and the cold sent exhilarating tingles across her skin. Then she was free, cutting through the invigorating vacuum of space.
She wanted to dance in the vast darkness, to celebrate her freedom. But her four passengers directed her to stop, and wait. Waiting could be done as easily in motion as in stillness, yet they cared nothing for her joys. She would have preferred not to carry these intruders, but the Eye had told her they were critical to the war, and by carrying them and aiding them, she was helping to attain victory.
The greatest joy is the ecstasy of victory.
She stopped where they directed. These creatures made her uneasy. She could feel them moving around inside the dark chambers of her body, running their hands over her curves, eyeing the shifting black brilliance of her skin. She had extended chairs from the walls and floor of her largest chamber for their comfort, and when they sat, their heat and oily excretions soaked into her.
Three, the Eye had told her, were techno-mages, with machinery incorporated into their bodies. From listening to them speak, she had learned their names: Elizar, Razeel, and Tilar. Anna found their bodies vastly inferior to her own. They generated some low-level energies, but they were irritants, no more.
Yet the fourth passenger was more, a torturous, repugnant presence. Her name was Bunny. The Eye had long ago taught her what a telepath was, and told her telepaths were enemies. Yet today the Eye had told her that this telepath was an ally, one who would fight with them.
When Bunny had first approached, Anna had immediately sensed the threat, a vague pressure that pushed at her mind, intrusive, confusing, quickly generating a dull, pulsing pain. She had not wanted Bunny inside her. All her instincts screamed against it. As Bunny stepped into her orifice, Anna sealed the telepath within, unwilling to expose herself to this enemy. But the Eye told her she must admit Bunny; this telepath meant no harm; Bunny’s thoughts simply carried a power that Anna could feel. To a lesser extent, Bunny would feel the pressure of Anna’s thoughts surrounding her. Anna was glad of that.
She had at last admitted Bunny, but she did not trust the telepath. Bunny was challenging her in some way she didn’t quite understand. Concentrating, carrying out her tasks had become more difficult in Bunny’s presence. At the first sign of aggression, Anna was prepared to expel Bunny out the nearest orifice. In the meantime, she bent her mind toward the telepath, hoping at least to make Bunny as uncomfortable as she was.
As she waited above the planet, Anna realized it wasn’t only Bunny’s presence that disturbed her, but her duties for this day, as the Eye had explained them. She longed to swoop down upon an enemy, to shriek out her war cry, to rush with the rapture of fire. For that she had been well trained. But for what she must do today, she had not been trained.
She resented having to take direction from Elizar, rather than from the Eye. More than that, she feared performing poorly, failing the machine that was so perfect and was a part of her. But if it was perfect, and it was a part of her, then she would not fail. She could not fail.
The intruders were speaking. Anna would have preferred to ignore them, to concentrate on the tasks at hand. But she had to keep close watch on Bunny, and she must try to understand this unfamiliar situation, so that she would perform well. Anna absorbed their words, their images, through her skin.
Though he was young, Elizar was the leader of the group. He had an angular face and pale skin. His scalp was bare, but on his chin dark hair grew in an intricate pattern. He wore a long coat of maroon velvet, with a gold and maroon vest underneath. At first Anna had thought the clothes lent him stature, but she realized the aura of authority came from Elizar himself. He calculated his movements as carefully as Anna plotted a course. What intrigued Anna most, though, was Elizar’s platinum staff, which he held braced against the floor. From it she sensed signs of life.
Elizar and Bunny stood to one side in Anna’s largest chamber, speaking privately. “If you’re successful,” Elizar said, “you will prove your value to me today. You will not share the fate of the others.”