"Yes, that will do it," Soran sat by the console. " I cant even the guarantee that anybody will be able to pick up the signal though."
Deleen grimaced. "How big will the receiver have to be in order to pick up our distress signal?"
"Maybe Babylon 5's transmitter could, maybe the communications centre on the Minbar. That black hole drains a lot of power from the signal strength."
"Do we have any idea where we are, at least?"
"Oh yes!" confirmed Soran. "We're about ten light years spinward of the Markab home world."
"And this system is undetected?" Delenn seemed incredulous that this system wasn't as remote as she first thought.
"Well, we never got detailed maps of their systems before they died out," Soran explained. "How is Muttley doing?"
Delenn smiled. "He can't believe he's still alive. Dr. Ketana from white star thirty-one managed to revive him. He' s not going to be able to walk until we get back to a medical centre."
Saran smiled back but then it faded as his gaze fell on Reynolds' body.
"What about him?"
"Not sure," Delenn replied. "It's obvious that he was being controlled by something that I can't see any mechanism. First order business, how long until you can start sending the signal?"
Soran scratched the bone structure at the back of his head as he considered his options. "Give me a couple of days. However, I have found a way to increase the root production so we don't starve."
Delenn grimaced again. "Based on the taste, I think I'd rather go without."
She turned to go. "I'll leave you do it. Anything you need, just let me know."
She left Soran to his work and walked out into the cold valley. She could not be certain if it was day or night in the half-light but it seemed to match mood. There were two questions going through her mind. One, why go to all this effort to keep the crews alive? Would it not be more efficient to permanently remove the crews?
Two, she had no inkling of who their opponent was. Running through the possibilities but only one came to mind. They were a race called 'Drach'. They served the shadows during the last war but were now homeless after Zah'adum had been destroyed. They now existed as a nomadic tribe, raiding and stealing whatever they could.
"However mighty had fallen," mused Delenn. "Great conquerors reduced to thievery."
There was one thing that she was sure about. They're opponent was definitely targeting the white star ships. Otherwise, the Minbari flyer, which was being escorted, would have been captured as well. It had something to do with the organic compounds found within the white star's themselves.
She realised that there was nothing more she could do from here. It was her duty to keep morale high until help arrived. She looked up at the half starry sky and allowed herself to think of John and David for the first time.
"I hope you'll be able to hear me." She whispered.
" Mr Smith, " Douglas Ordered. "Follow Ivanova's directions until we've landed!"
"Aye Aye Sir."
Ivanova was busy watching the display screens. The Ark Royal was now 3KM below the surface of the planet, in one of the many canyons that criss-cross the surface of Epsilon III.
"Slow Speed to 100Kph." She instructed.
"Aye Aye Sir."
"Take the next opening to the left"
Again the acknowledgment from Mr Smith.
"Drop another 300 metres into the cavern."
The third 'Aye Aye' acknowledgment took her completely by surprise. She turned to Douglas.
"What is with the all the 'Aye Aye' ?" she whispered.
"Protocol," Replied Douglas. "A response to a superior officer's question to which the answer is yes, that is 'Yes, Sir.' A response to a direct order by a superior officer is always 'Aye Aye Sir.' "
"Even if they're female?"
"Yes, " Douglas confirmed. "We have no sex when were on-board ship."
There was an awkward silence, Ivanova looked incredulous for a second and then understood.
"So everyone is a Sir?"
"Yes." Douglas turned his attention to Kelly, who was hunched over her station trying desperately not to laugh out loud, "Something to add, Engineer Kelly?"
There was a desperate clearing of the throat and a cough, as Kelly brought herself under control.
Ivanova was staring back at the screen, trying to control her own fit of giggles. Thankfully Clanwellin choose that moment to make his report.
"Got something Sir. It's looks like an umbilical port."
"That's it!" Confirmed Ivanova. "Can we dock with it?"
"Then do so, Mr Smith." Ordered Douglas.
"Aye Aye Sir."
Ark Royal closed until the external lights showed the structure. It extended halfway out of the canyon wall and had a right-angled upturned end. Smith manoeuvred the ship over the top of it and slowly settled the ventricle dock port on it. There was a very gentile thump. There followed several more thumps as attachments locked on to the ship's hull.
"Sir!" Clanwellin was trying not to panic. "More attachments"
"Lets see." Douglas said as he called up the external view of the ship, "Looks like we're locked into some kind of platform. We're going nowhere for the moment."
"Not that we've got anywhere else to go anyway." Commented Kelly.
Douglas ignored her. "Right then, Bridge Crew, Ivanova and Lennier will be our landing party. Smith, you take Clanwellin and Kelly to get ready and meet me at the vertical dock. I'll get Lennier and have a quick word with Chief Tech Lennon."
Leaving a very bemused looking chief technician behind them, Douglas and Ivanova went to get Lennier.
"So what's the story behind this Draal fellow?" Douglas asked.
"He's a Minbari who took custody of this planet. He can be a bit overbearing but once you get past that he's actually very helpful." Explained Ivanova.
"Can you give me any hints to what's down here?"
"I can promise you that we're in no danger, as long as you behave yourself. But this place had got to be seen to be believed." Ivanova was enjoying the fact it was her turn to spring the surprises.
"Ok. Keep your secrets." Douglas said while smiling, "If this Draal is willing to keep my ship safe from the mad woman up there, I'd be willing to take a little on faith."
They arrived at Lennier's Cabin to find the Minbari meditating. To Ivanova, he looked very unsettled, not being able to hold his stance correctly.
"Are we disturbing you, Mr Lennier?" asked Douglas.
"No." the Minbari replied in his usual quiet voice. "I was just finishing this cycle."
"You willing to come with us round Epsilon III?" asked Ivanova.
"If you think I'll be of any help." He responded.
Ivanova raised her eyes to the ceiling in exasperation and sighed.
"Lennier, of course you are needed and stop acting as if you're the lowest rank here." Ivanova's voice started to rise as she realised how angry his attitude was making her.
"I, we, need you as you were. That is quick thinking and willing to come up with suggestions and ideas. This brooding has to stop. I'm not John or Delenn so don't let your problems with them get in the way of solving this situation we've found ourselves in. Now pack your stuff and meet the others at the ventricle dock."
The Minbari looked at Ivanova with open-mouthed shock. It was the same expression as Douglas, who had taken a step back just in case Ivanova exploded. Lennier stood, picked up his small bag, bowed very quickly and left without saying a word.
"Good motivational speech." Douglas said after she'd recomposed herself.
"Well, I reckon that we should only have one grumpy, broody sourpuss on this mission and I'm reserving that place by Captain's prerogative and the fact I'm Russian." She replied.
"Very well, after you Captain Sourpuss." Said Douglas trying not to laugh.
With Ivanova leading, all six of them waked the dusty red corridors of Epsilon three. It was getting hard to see with all the orange dust, which was covering the place.
"Are you sure you can remember the way?" Asked Lennier.
"Everybody asks me that question…" replied Ivanova.
"Because you can never remember the right way." Came a big booming voice.
All six turned to see a huge Minbari, over six feet tall and well built, grinning with an unnerving smile and the strangest glint in his eyes.
"Don't Worry, " he continued, "You are all welcome here."
Ivanova noticed that he seemed to look more at Lennier than anybody else when he said that. It was only then that Ivanova remembered exactly who Draal was. He had been Delenn's tutor and probably her oldest friend. There was also a good chance he knew all about the trouble with Lennier.
"Yes, All Welcome." He repeated. "You can remove your breathers from this point on. Ivanova, I'll send Zathrus to find you. Take the next left and wait." He grinned manically, bowed melodramatically and then disappeared. She took her breather off and then others followed suit. The commonwealth crew looked at each other in bewilderment.
"I didn't think that the Minbari had read C.S. Lewis. Wasn't that the Cheshire Cat?" observed Kelly.
They turned the next left into an alcove and it was there the commonwealth crew had their first look at the great machine. It's towers, which gleamed with the lights blazing in unrecognisable patterns and it's massive structures disappearing into the distance.
"Welcome to wonderland, Alice." Said Ivanova turned to the commonwealth crew.
"Doesn't that mean there will be a mad woman turning up and yelling 'off with your head' ?" commented Douglas wrily.
"Nah!" said Kelly, "She's too busy running B5."
"Ha, There you Are!" said yet another voice behind them. This time it belonged to a creature that Douglas had never seen before. He looked like a five-foot high raccoon standing on his back legs.
"Everyone?" said Ivanova. "This is Zathrus."
"Much Hello ness to you all." The creature said, "Draal says you follow me now." And with that he ambled off.
It took them half an hour to get to the centre. Touring though a maze of tunnels and walkways of machinery and light. Ivanova and Zathrus led the way, with Zathrus always muttering something under his breath.
Kelly walked next to Douglas. She looked around in wonderment, occasionally muttering some exclamation. It was the first time that Douglas had seen her looking at something with wide-eyed innocence. She looked absolutely radiant without her cynical mask
He quickly averted his eyes when she turned to look at him. Had she picked up on his feelings to her?
"Beats Farside doesn't it." She said.
"… and then some!" He agreed.
She turned away with a semi smile on her lips which left Douglas feeling confused as they followed the others round yet another corner. However, at the next sight he didn't know whether to be impressed or horrified.
They were situated in a huge cavern with a single structure in the centre. At the base, was a figure held in the shape of a crucifix. It was the same Minbari that they'd seen earlier. However, he was covered in dust and nobody could count the amount of wires and tubes that connected him to the machine.
"Ah, you've found me…" The Minbari faded into existence next to them.
"Draal. I thought you said you were going to dust yourself once in a while?" asked Ivanova, indicating his physical body.
The Minbari looked a little crestfallen. "I must admit, I'm not exactly looking my best, mostly because I'm not used to receiving visitors. However, I think once a week might be not too much to ask eh Zathrus?"
The raccoon type creature nodded and left. Douglas was sure he'd hear him muttering something along the lines of having enough to do.
"Erm Draal, I'm sure you know Lennier but the others are…" Ivanova started.
"From an organisation calling itself the Commonwealth." Draal beamed at them. "An escape attempt at the Battle of the Line. Organised by the Psi-Corp and approved of by the President herself."
"You know of us?" It was the loudest statement Douglas had ever heard Smith make.
"Don't worry." Boomed Draal with his manic grin, "Your secret is quite safe with me. Although the Sun-Gliders clan stills feels the disgrace from what happened with your BG Battle group."
"I hope that's not a threat." Replied Smith.
"Oh No." Draal looked almost affronted by the suggestion, "If I wanted to, they could have known you whereabouts nine or ten years ago. I'm just trying to prove to you that I can be trusted."
"Not like we have much choice." Grumbled Smith.
"Exactly!" replied Draal whist beaming a huge grin at all of them.