We stopped at the bottom of the stairs and waited. Nar'Bon's voice could be heard through the door. I could not make out exactly what he was saying, but he sounded more excited than anything else. There certainly wasn't any fear or caution in his voice so we pushed the Pak'ma'ra out into the corridor and walked towards Nar'Bon, who was standing in a doorway a few paces along the corridor.
He was talking to a Markab.
A Markab. How had it survived?
Nar'Bon was explaining that one of our party was ill, and we feared it was Drafa just as Russell pushed the wheelchair up to the doorway. I think that both we and the Markab were very surprised. The Markab's face fell when he was that it was a Pak'ma'ra that was ill and not a Markab. Still, after initial greetings, he turned to a cabinet and pulled out a vial of blue fluid which he said was a restorative that would aid the Pak'ma'ra.
"You will have to forgive me. I had hoped that there would be another of my people. I am of course happy to help another." He injected it into the Pak'ma'ra's neck.
"What's that blue stuff?" I asked. "The Babylon 5 cure?"
The Markab nodded. "I received the formula and synthesised some. I have made enough for several of my people. It should work for your friend. He will start recovering almost immediately." Indeed, the Pak'ma'ra was already twitching his tentacles and making some disgusting slobbery noises.
"We are grateful for your help. I am Na'Tiel. This is Nar'Bon, Russell T Moore and the Pak'ma'ra is Djikiden."
"I am Orkanish."
Russell had a question to which we all wanted to know the answer. "Hey, if Drafa is the Black Angel of Death, then how did you survive? And what are you doing down here?"
Obviously Nar'Bon thought the Human was being melodramatic, "Russell, we know that Drafa is a disease, not a morality issue." Big words indeed from my offsider.
The Markab sat down in a seat in front of an active terminal. A terminal! Maybe that could help us. Orkanish rubbed his chin for a moment then began to speak.
"Some of us have been looking for a cure to Drafa for a long time. We have had no support from the government, who tried to cover the plague up. When we realised how serious, how widespread Drafa had become, a few of us isolated ourselves down here and tried to continue the work.
"What we didn't know was that some of us were already infected. By the time we were sent the cure, I was the only researcher capable of synthesising it. My companions all died before I could help them. I was ill, but recovered. Since then I have been working on isolating the variant of Drafa that has afflicted my people so."
He fell silent and his face reflected sorrow. Orkanish stood and apologised for his rudeness, but he had to retire for a while. We watched him go in silence.
We laid the Pak'ma'ra on a trolley and left him to burble and twitch. I went exploring to see what facilities this area had to offer. I found laboratories that were sealed, with enviro suits hanging up inside. One room contained some dead Markab. What I really wanted to find was a kitchen. And some bathing facilities. Not only had I become very attached to my food supply since leaving the desert, I also had become fastidious about being clean. The latter was possibly as a result of knowing how the Pak'ma'ra smelt.
I could find little of what I wanted to find, and did not want to risk going upstairs, so I returned to where Russell and Nar'Bon were trying to work the terminal without disrupting the Markab's work. After some time had passed, the Pak'ma'ra started showing signs of recovery. He started talking again, much to my dismay, offering his opinion on a variety of matters, including the trolley which he lay on. Not long after that, he was sitting up. We told him where he was and what had been done for him.
OK, OK, so I was actually glad that he didn't die. Just don't tell anyone.
Orkanish came back into the room. The Pak'ma'ra thanked him profusely - the Pak'ma'ra seemed to be very afraid of dying, not just in the way that we all do not wish to die, but in a pathological sense. He was terrified of it, but this time did not offer a life debt of honour. That wasn't strange - look where the last one had landed him....
One thing that I had forgotten to ask of Orkanish before was the identity of the race who still existed above.
"Orkanish, if the Markab have suffered Drafa, then who is in the military fliers that we have seen?"
He regarded me as if I was seeing things, so I persisted. "There are a number of scavenger and looter groups topside, but they are not using Markab design military fliers and ground vehicles. We know that there was another race on Markab because we have seen their writing."
Russell turned to the Pak'ma'ra. "Djikiden, do you still have that label?"
The Pak'ma'ra produced a tin label with the odd script from some pocket in his Markab robes - he must have taken it off one of the tins in the base - and showed it to Orkanish. Orkanish reacted oddly - I could not judge what his reaction meant because I do not know the Markab well enough - and said "They are the Redeemed."
"What do you mean by redeemed?"
The Pak'ma'ra broke in. "They have followed the Path of Redemption - remember what the Earther doctor from the raider base undertook?"
"No." I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. Maybe I should have known - the phrase was vaguely familiar - but I didn't.
The Markab offered more information. "Those who have committed grevious crimes are offered Redemption. They must undergo purification and many rituals of penance, and then are accepted back into Markab society. This Path is open not only to Markab, but those of other races that seek Redemption."
"But who are they?"
"They are the Redeemed! They are Markab."
I wasn't getting very far with my questions. "Then who were they?"
"Who they were is not to be talked of. They are no longer those people and cannot bear the burden of who they were previously now that they have been shriven."
I scowled at him, somewhat peeved by his lack of helpfulness. This Redemption sounded stupid to me - a criminal was a criminal until he had redressed the damage he had done, or been brought to justice by the victim or their family. Being shriven of one's crimes simply by acts of purification seemed utterly nonsensical to me.
"So you won't tell us who they were."
The Pak'ma'ra took up the argument again. "Captain, they are Markab to all intents and purposes in the eyes of Markab society. They may look different, they might have different writing, but they are Markab."
I retired defeated. Aliens!
We did get some useful information out of Orkanish, however. It appeared that there were many different forms of proteins and genetic codes, and that the origin and type of these could be tracked by knowing their sequence of units and comparing them to different data banks. They can also be made in the laboratory, and signatures put into the unimportant parts of the molecule. He then went on to talk about different strains of Drafa. He showed us a closeup of the Drafa molecule that had been on the terminal screen when we first saw him - this was the molecule that had destroyed Markab society to nearly every last being. Much of what he was saying did not make much sense to me - it was very technical, and I am a pilot with scant understanding of genetics. However, what I did understand was that this version of Drafa had been tagged with a signature that translated as "Deathspinner."
The plague was not some freak of nature. It was a deliberate construct and had been signed for all the world to see.
Who was Deathspinner? The name was more than reminiscent. I snarled, "Deathspinner. Reminds me of Deathwalker!"
The Human recoiled from me. "Uhh, I'm afraid to ask this, but who was Deathwalker?"
I was not the only one surprised. "You don't remember the Dilgar? Remember the war against them?"
"I wasn't born then," Russell protested.
"But the Earthers won the war for us all!"
"We didn't get to hear much on Mars, so I guess that is another thing that they never told us about."
I decided to educate the Human a little further. He flinched as I turned to him and let my hatred speak. "Deathwalker was an enemy of my people. She had created an anti-agapic, an anti-aging potion. It required something from the living for it to work. Unfortunately the potent ingredient could only be taken from the living by killing them. Deathwalker killed many, many Narn, and many other peoples of other races, in her experiments and cruelties. I had a Shon'Kar against her, as did many of my people, for what she had done to our parents and grandparents before she disappeared. Before we could wrest the secret from her and take our revenge on her person, the Vorlons killed her."
The Human's jaw was flopping loosely in a most unattractive manner. He had heard nothing of this despite the fact that it had happened only one and a half years before. I had been at Babylon 5 at the time of Deathwalker's reappearance. My nasal passages had burned and my skin itched with the knowledge and nearness of her presence, but had not had the chance to carry out my Shon'Kar due to the heavy security afforded the unworthy being. Indeed, all the Narn on Babylon 5 were forbidden to touch her, and there were many who would have rejoiced in her death at our hands.
Still, we had no idea of who Deathspinner could be. Orkanish had checked against all the hospital databases he could find with no result. We could not access external information even from here. The web had failed as power cut out across Markab.
Orkanish sat slumped at his terminal. "This is all I can find out. All this work only to discover that my people were deliberately exposed to plague. I do not know who did this and I will never know. I am alone and will remain so until I die. My only reason for living is to try to make this information known to all races. They must know what has been done to my people."
Russell asked why didn't Orkanish clone some Markab to be company. Those bedamned edicts got in the way again. It was immoral to perform or even to think of such acts. We Narn did not have such inhibitions - if tinkering with our genetics would breed telepaths, we would do it.
The Pak'ma'ra wanted to know if he had to have any more of the cure to Drafa.
"It is not a cure as such, it is something that helps the green cells produce more neurochemicals, thus fighting the effects of Drafa. You'll need to have several injections every day of this much," he showed the Pak'ma'ra a measure, "for the next four days before your system is clear of Drafa."
When I asked Orkanish to explain this more simply, he said, "Drafa attacks certain cells in the circulation of Markab and Pak'ma'ra. These cells make the chemicals that are involved with transmission of nerve impulses. Only Pak'ma'ra and Markab have these cells, which is why we were the only two species affected. One way to fight the disease is to boost up production of the chemicals, which is what this cocktail does, to stop the nervous system from shutting down. In both Markab and Pak'ma'ra, the heart, or its equivalent, requires input from the brain to continue pumping. Many other species have a reflex action in the heart that keeps it moving blood around the body."
I still wasn't sure of what he was talking about, but I think that he meant that if the brains stopped working, the hearts stopped pumping and the Markab died.
"I only wish the cure had come sooner when my people could benefit from it." Markab normally look unhappy to my eye, but this one looked very sad indeed, and I could not blame him. "It is too late for my people, but the other races must know what befell us and what may befall them."
In a burst of compassion I asked, "If this life holds no possibility of joy for you, why do you not end it?"
"I cannot take my own life, and I cannot deliberately do anything to endanger my life. Therefore I cannot die and am stuck in a living death."
I had a brief conversation with Nar'Bon about killing the Markab, or more correctly giving him Mercy and allowing him to leave this wretched life. He was obviously totally and utterly miserable, as may be expected of someone who is the last of not only his family or clan but also his race. I noticed the Pak'ma'ra was listening - he seemed to have a faculty for languages unusual in his race - and switched to a southern dialect. We quickly came to a consensus that Mercy would be the correct and honourable thing to do.
The Pak'ma'ra and I simultaneously said, "We are sorry for your loss."
I continued, "You cannot ask to be killed, and you could not perform any act that would lead to your own death, but would you accept Mercy if it were offered?"
He understood what I meant by Mercy. "Yes."
"I can grant you Mercy if that is what you want."
The Pak'ma'ra broke in. "Would there be any chemicals in here that would cause a quick but not unpleasant death?"
"Yes." Orkanish said some random string of syllables and indicated a cupboard.
The Pak'ma'ra peered through the glassed frame and then opened the cupboard, selecting a vial. "And how much of this would be a lethal dose?" He drew up some into a hypo. "This much?"
"Oh, yes. Definately. It is not an immediate death, but it is gentle. But without someone to carry this information to the stars, I cannot leave this life behind."
By G'Quan - the Pak'ma'ra was going to offer the Markab Mercy! That went against all of the Pak'ma'ra's precious principles of life. He was going to murder someone! Not in cold blood, but with love and caring.
Djikiden whirled abruptly and pressed the hypo against Orkanish's neck. "I swear to you that what you have discovered will be made public. I will lay down my life to carry out your task."
The Markab staggered a little, then carefully sat down on a stool. "Thank you. This plague was brought upon us by others. That must be known by all other races." He fell silent for a few seconds. "I can see them - they are waiting for me. All of them are waiting for me."
"Say hello to Kimmini for me then." The others glared at me. They thought I was being flippant. They didn't realise that I was serious. I had known her for so few days, but I cared for her and missed her.
"Yes, I can see her. She looks happy. They all look happy. I - I can feel my edicts slipping away. I am free!" A gentle smile lifted his face. He looked up at us one last time and whispered, "Beware the Redeemed."
I grabbed at his body as it started to fall, but Djikiden swept it up into his arms. The burden was great for him, but he managed to lift the body of Orkanish up. I tried to offer assistance, but saw from his face that this was something Djikiden had to do himself. I let him and his burden leave the room and did not follow him.
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