>sigh, exasperated sigh< Why did it have to come during finals week? Of all the weeks for inspiration to strike, why finals week?
Anywhosits. This is yet another Zack story (from me? No! I never would have guessed). No mention of any of these events was ever made in the series' five-year story arc and I suspect there never will be. Let's face it. I'm only an obsessed fan. What are the odds?...
Legalese: I don't own B5, I never have, I never will. I'm not involved in its production, I'm just a psycho with a computer, an idea, and an obsession with Zack. The great and powerful Straczynski made it all and has control over that whole universe. I hope WB won't crush me under their boot of doubtlessly existing lawyers because I really can't afford a law suit.
Special thanks once again to Laura Linde (AKA Johnannasheridan) for helping me past the monumental writer's block. That may be why it gets a bit crazy at the end...
Oh yeah, historian's note: This is supposed to happen during the third season between "Grey 17 is Missing" and "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place."
Garibaldi entered Security Central with a couple
of felons and two other security officers following him.
It was just another normal day on Babylon 5.
"All right," said the security chief, "stick 'em in holding and book 'em."
The two officers nodded and escorted the felons into another room.
"What was it this time?" Garibaldi's second, Zack Allan, asked from his station by the wall. "Petty theft, assault, inciting to riot?"
"Try possession with intent."
Zack half moaned, half sighed. "Dust again? Geeze where is this crap comin' from?"
"Well, the station's no longer Earth controlled which means that Earthgov can't intervene in stopping these guys. Places like here and Proxima have become safe havens for slime like them." Garibaldi checked the time on his link. "Hey can you take care of the paperwork? I've got mornin' meeting with the captain and Ivanova."
"Sure thing, chief
"Yeah, see ya' in an hour or so."
Garibaldi exited the office as Zack swiveled the chair around to start his work. He sighed once and began typing on the keyboard.
Fun, fun, fun, he thought.
* * *
"This is the third time in a month Dust smugglers
have come through here and gotten caught," reported Garibaldi, "and those
were just the ones we found trafficking the stuff. Individual cases
of use keep popping up all over Brown Sector no matter how many big busts
"Which means someone's really good at getting it past customs and on to the station," said Ivanova, "great, this is just what we need."
Captain Sheridan slapped a report on his desk. "The Shadows have paused their attacks since the Vorlons went up against them, but that could change again at any moment. We don't have time to be worrying about this now. We may have to launch a major offensive and if that happens the enemy will almost certainly know we're responsible. When that happens we'll need squadrons on flyby at all times."
"And what if Clark sends more ships out after us?" Garibaldi suggested. "We can't be worrying about Dust crazed loonies running around while we're holding off an invasion. Now, I've tracked the transports the last three smugglers have come in on. They all came from Proxima III."
"What if one of us went out to Proxima and went undercover to find out what's happening?" Ivanova said. "We could find out where this is coming from without jeopardizing the station."
Sheridan shook his head. "No, not one of us. Ever since we broke away from Earth, ISN's been broadcasting our faces from here to the rim and back again. Any of us would draw too much attention and we'd be picked up in a second."
"What about Marcus?" Ivanova suggested. "He's trained in recon and information operations."
Sheridan looked out his office window and considered for a moment. "No," he decided, "as much as I appreciate his skills, he'd draw too much attention as well. Besides, he's a Ranger and I don't want any of our conflict with Earth to spill over into the Minbari government."
"Then, who do we send?" Ivanova asked.
Garibaldi tapped his knee in consideration. "I think I've got our guy."
"You want me to go to Proxima?" Zack asked of the
assembled commanding officers.
"Right," confirmed Garibaldi, "near as we can figure, the Dust that gets smuggled on to B5 comes through there first."
"Zack, you've been working closely with Mr. Garibaldi for almost two years now," said Sheridan, "so you know the situation, you know how to handel yourself, and you're still low profile enough to do it without attracting too much attention."
"Near as we can figure, there's a lot of the stuff comin' through there," said Garibaldi, "whoever's runnin' the operation has to have a pretty good support net. If you can find out where it's coming from and where it's goin', great. If you can stop it, all the better."
"There is a risk," stated Ivanova, "Clark's people are all over Proxima III under cover. If they find you, I don't need to tell you what could happen."
"The bottom line is, it's up to you," said Sheridan, "Lord knows you've done your part with the Nightwatch and all but-"
"So when do I leave?" Zack asked, cutting off the CO.
Garibaldi gave Ivanova an I-told-you-so look.
Zack hated commercial flights. They were crowded,
noisy, and sometimes (as in this case) stinky. He shuttered to think
what the Pak'ma'ra across the isle was eating. Whatever it was, smelled
"Disgusting the way they eat, isn't it?"
Oh yeah, and there were always the requisite annoying passengers who never left you alone.
"Like I always say," said the sandy blond man sitting next to him, "if you can't stand the smell, don't stand the Pak'ma'ra. Beowulf Shaeffer." The man stuck out a hand for Zack to take.
"Uh, Callahan. Mike Callahan." He returned the handshake. Garibaldi, I should shoot you for giving me that name.
"So where you comin' from?" Shaeffer asked.
Wouldn't you like to know. "Gettin' out of the line of fire on B5," Zack replied, "things got too hot there to run a business."
"You jus' stoppin' over on Proxima, or are you gonna stay?"
"I thought I'd try the business around there for a while. See what comes." Go away!
"Hey, so was I. Small universe eh?"
"So where you headed, Callahan?" Shaeffer asked as
they both made their way through customs.
Away, Zack thought. "The local office. Gotta get a business permit."
"Hey, I'll go with ya'."
"Sounds great." Be still my beating heart.
They both started heading down the corridor of one of the colony domes.
"So what kinda music do ya' like?" Shaeffer asked.
"Same old thing," said Zack, "Bobbi Joy, mostly."
"Ah. Personally, I go for the old wakko songs. You know, 'Yoda,' 'Boot to the Head,' 'Fish Heads,' things like that."
" 'They're comin' to take me away, ha ha'?"
"Hey, Garibaldi said you'd be comin' through."
"Why didn't you say that before?" Zack asked, now certain this was the security chief contact.
"Had to make sure," said Shaeffer, "gotta know who I'm dealin' with. Especially since we get under cover guys comin' through here so much. It's just the business that's all."
"Yeah, yeah, fine, so whadaya got?"
"Couple of guys come through here a few days ago. I saw 'em in the Black Dwarf bar trying to sell a case full of somethin' to one Harry Drake. Now Harry's known to be in on a lot of drug trafficking deals and at least one syndicate or somethin'' that no one's been able to prove exists. He's also made a few trips to Babylon 5 since it broke away from Earth. Few days later, the two guys got picked up for possession of Dust."
"You got a picture of this Drake guy?"
"And more," said Shaeffer handing Zack a data crystal, "this is a copy of all the info on him I've got."
"All right, I'll look it over. Anything else?"
"Yeah, you tell Garibaldi that when this is all over, I'm through with him. He's getting way too dangerous for my tastes." Shaeffer turned and walked away without further talking.
Zack fingered the data crystal thoughtfully. Strange people the chief hangs out with.
After depositing his stuff in a rented quarters,
Zack went to find the Black Dwarf bar. The scenery of Proxima was
everything he'd expected it to be; hot, crowded, unorganized, a few places
looking like Downbelow but most fairly respectable looking.
At least on the outside.
A few businesses in the Zocalo look respectable, too, Zack reminded himself. It was a good thing Garibaldi and Ivanova had managed to get a civilian's gun license included on Mr. Micheal Callahan's ID.
The Black Dwarf was located in one of those in between looking places; mostly respectable looking, but some shady business types hanging around. A couple of bottles were smashed in the corners, but the rest of the floor was kept swept.
He sat at the bar and started scanning the room. A small, and serenely quiet, band was performing on the stage and Zack soon was lightly tapping a fingertip on the bar in time to the tune.
"What'll ya' have?" asked a voice from the other side of the bar. Zack turned to see a woman tending the bar. She was considerably shorter than he was and had long, dark brown hair tied up in a braid tumbling over her shoulder.
"Uh, just a water," he responded.
She nodded and brought back a glass. "You come here for the music?" the barkeep asked.
"Uh, yeah, I like this kinda stuff."
"Well, that's refreshing. Most people go for that Bobbi Joy tripe."
Oh, smooth, Zack, he thought to himself, watch how you make your character, dolt. Don't slip up.
"So what's your name, stranger?" asked the waitress.
"Really? Don't suppose you run a bar on the east coast of north America and like to pun a lot, do ya'?"
Oh, shit. "Naw, my parents were SF freaks."
"Did it pass to you?"
"Hmm. Too bad. I'm Dianna Pelton."
Much to Zack's dismay, the conversation wasn't going to end any time soon. The fact that she told him her name told him that. She'd sit here and talk to him and make him spew all kinds of stuff about family history that he'd be forced to make up off the top of his head and would no doubt, forget later and screw up big time. At that moment, he wished, more than anything, people would just stop talking to him.
What the Hell had he been thinking anyway? He couldn't handle all this. Ivanova was the one with the photographic memory, he was sure of it. How in the Hell was he going to remember all this crap he was rolling out before the barkeep?
Their conversation continued, Zack constantly looking over his shoulder and around the room for Drake, but never finding him.
"You uh, lookin' for someone?" Pelton asked.
"Huh? No, I'm just listenin' to the uh..." the band had since stopped playing, "the din of the, uh..." there weren't many people left, "the cooling system."
"Ah," she responded, "you must have good ears."
"Umhm, luck. Well," he said, getting up from his seat, "I guess I'd better get goin' it's gettin' kinda late."
"Sure, I'll get your check," Dianna said.
"I uh, only had water."
"Oh," she said, "so you did."
Zack tapped his finger tips on the bar a couple of times. "G'night." As Pelton went back to her work, he quietly left the bar, relieved to not have to talk to anyone at any length any more.
When he got back to his quarters, he went in, closed the door behind him, and leaned against the wall, trying to catch his nerves.
After a few breaths, he went for the bed in the middle of the room.
"Computer, lights," he commanded, sitting on the edge.
Odd, it felt somewhat weighed down. Okay, so his pack was on it, but this was ridiculous.
"My, my, you stay out late and don't call. Hasn't your mother raised you better?"
Zack whirled around, drawing his PPG.
He was brought up short by who he found.
Anla'shok Marcus Cole was sitting nonchalantly, leaning against the wall with his legs crossed and outstretched comfortably.
"Marcus?" Zack exclaimed. "What are you doing? You trying to make me stick to the ceiling?"
"Nice to see you, too," said the Ranger, hopping up from the bed, "Mr. Garibaldi decided you might need a little extra help, so here I am."
"Hey, whoa, whoa. I don't need a baby sitter, okay. I'm doing just fine on my own. Besides, you're not exactly discreet."
"I'm a Ranger. Being discreet is what we do."
"Yeah, yeah. Do me a favor and go tell the chief that amazing discovery."
"A bit touchy tonight, aren't we? I'm not here to be your business partner. I came in the White Star. She's sitting in hyperspace just off the jumpgate beacon. I'm supposed to give you an alternate communications route through the ship to Babylon 5. But if you don't want it I can-"
"All right, all right. Just don't do that to me again. You almost had to scrape me off the ceiling with a spatula."
"There's an image. So, what have we found?"
Zack sighed and fished in his pocket for the data crystal Shaeffer had given him earlier. "I met up with the chief's contact. He gave me some info on this guy named Harry Drake. Get Garibaldi to do a search on him. Specifically for any Dust violations on B5."
"We'll do," Marcus responded, "anything else."
"Yeah," sighed Zack, "a coupla tranq pills and a vacation."
"Have you tried meditation? It's very restful, good for the nerves."
Zack looked at Marcus as though he'd just said he could sprout wings and fly to the Vorlon Homeworld and back.
"Right," said Marcus, "I hid the relay under the mattress. It's pretty self-explanatory. It piggy backs on to outgoing signals, so unless you know what you're looking for you won't be able to detect it. If you need anything, just call. See you in a little while."
The Ranger swiftly exited and left Zack alone with the small transmitter and his thoughts. Of the latter, there was only one.
I sure hope so.
Proxima's equivalent to the Zocalo was much bigger.
It was, therefore, harder to find someone in the bigger crowd.
Zack strolled along the long central path in the large stadium like room, looking for Harry Drake. But instead, he came upon Beowulf Shaeffer.
The trader was doing business with someone and it seemed rather important so Zack waited until the other person was gone before approaching the table.
Shaeffer seemed to be packing up his things which seemed quite odd for the middle of the business hours.
"Hey Shaeffer," Zack called, "you got a moment?"
"I thought I told you, Callahan," the contact responded, "I'm done with Garibaldi and anyone connected to him."
"And Harry Drake?"
Shaeffer paused and looked up from his stuff. "Why would I have anything to do with him?"
"You tell me. A thought occurred to me last night. I was going over all that information you gave me and I got to wonderin' how a normal trader like you would know all about a smuggler like Drake?"
Shaeffer glanced around and finished gathering his papers. He nodded his head to a hallway at the side of the room. After they both made their way there, Beowulf glanced down the ends of the corridor finding no one.
"I wasn't always just a normal trader," he admitted, "a few years back, I was workin' for Drake. At first, it was all small time, a few packets smuggled in here and there, but nothin' I could get nabbed on trafficking with. Then all of a sudden, he started givin' me more and more to transport and he started upping the rates he was sellin' at. I think he was kicking it back to someone else. So I got out."
"Oh no. No one just gets out of things like that. There's more to it, isn't there?"
"Shh, keep it down. Word gets out I used to be a smuggler, poof, no more clients." The trader glanced down the hall again. "He let me out on the deal that he'd get free transit rights on my ships, as long as it wasn't illegal. That's all. So, I hear a few things, here and there."
"And just how do I meet up with this guy?"
"I told you, he hangs around the Black Dwarf a lot. Now get outta my hair, okay?"
Shaeffer turned and began to stalk away down the corridor "Just one more question," Zack called after him, "how'd you meet Garibaldi?"
"He and I ran into each other in a bar on B5 and shared a coupla drinks, why?"
That feeling in his gut returned and alarms immediately sounded in Zack's mind. "Oh, no reason," he said.
Shaeffer continued his stalk to the other end of the corridor
Zack returned to his quarters for a quick bite to
eat and to review the information Shaeffer had given him to try and sort
out what was plausible or believable.
As he looked it over he realized, it could all be fake. Even Drake himself could be fabricated.
Suddenly, from under the mattress, he heard a constant beep-beeping.
He switched off the now useless data crystal and dug under the mattress for the transmitter. He fished it out and activated the interface.
"Zack here, go."
"I have that information you wanted on Harry Drake," said Marcus from the other end, "he's been caught a few times on B5 with Dust and a few other colorful items. Not enough to get him more than a fine though."
"All right, I've got a hunch. Can you cross-reference his time on B5 with that of the other two perps a few days ago and see what comes up."
"No problem. Anything else?"
"Yeah, ask the chief if he knows a Beowulf Shaeffer, huh?"
"Right. I'll contact you again in a few hours."
"Got'cha, Zack out."
Zack was once again left alone with his thoughts. Now that he was reasonably certain Drake had something to do with the Dust smuggling, he was faced with one particular question; what to do when he found him.
He decided that he had two options. He could follow Drake or one of his people and see where it led him. If he could find evidence just by seeing things, he could prove it was him. But this option seemed rather dangerous. After all, if he were a major smuggler, he'd know who, if anyone, was following him in only a couple of hours. People don't just start hanging around you constantly by accident.
Option two would take more development of Micheal Callahan, which would mean more stuff to remember, but would prove to be far less dangerous and possibly more fruitful. He could infiltrate Drake's syndicate.
Of course, when he had all the information he'd need, he'd suddenly have to go missing. And when that happened, they'd start looking for him. That wouldn't happen if he went with option one.
Zack mentally weighed the pros and cons over the remainder of his "lunch" and came to a decision.
Mike Callahan would join Harry Drake's syndicate.
* * *
Zack again sat in the Black Dwarf, this time in a
corner away from the bar in the hopes that he wouldn't have to run into
that bartender, Dianna Pelton, again. He wasn't in the mood for playing
verbal cat-and-mouse and trying not to slip up on his character history.
What a pain.
His efforts seemed to be working for a while, but that illusion was shattered when the barkeep strolled over to his table with a pad in hand.
"Well, you're back soon," said Pelton, "sorry, we don't have any bands playing tonight."
Zack just realized he had no reason for just sitting there doing nothing. "You got scotch around here?"
"On the rocks, or straight up?"
"Rocks," Zack responded. He wanted it to look like he was there for something, but too big a drink was not a good idea in this case.
Dianna nodded and walked off. She returned a moment later with a small glass filled with ice and scotch and set it on the table in front of him and, much to Zack's dismay, sat down.
For only a moment, Zack saw on the upper part of her wrist a corner of what looked to be a link. She pulled her sleeve down over it in a hurry and placed that hand on her lap below the tabletop.
"You might want to put that in another place," he told her.
"Put what where?"
Zack gave her the standard what-do-you-take-me-for look. "I've got one, too," he said, crossing his arms and, feeling for the toggle on his own link, caused the beeper to go off, muffled by his arms.
"Damn!" Pelton quietly exclaimed. "I knew I was wrong for this."
"What are you doing here?" Zack asked.
"My real name's Karen Schot. Proxima security. I'm trying to find the moles we have going around here. You?"
"Zack Allan. Babylon 5. Dust smugglers. Do the math."
"Babylon 5? But that's Sheridan's command. They've got files on all the crew members there that defected. What the Hell are you guys trying to stop Dust smugglers for? Believe me, from what I've heard, you've got bigger fish to fry."
"Lady, you don't know the half of it."
"Ever heard of Shadows?"
"The things that light cast?"
"What the Hell is that supposed to mean?"
"You ever get people comin' through here talkin' about ships that look like spiders from Hell, listen, trust me."
"Whoa, we caught some guy down in the industrial section goin' crazy," said Schot, "but we assumed he was just nuts. Are you sure you haven't found that Dust you're lookin' for?"
"Fine," said Zack, draining his glass, "don't believe me. See what I care." He pulled out a credit chit and popped in into the interface on the tray the officer had been carrying as part of her cover charactor and began to walk out.
"Wait," she called after him, catching up, "you got any proof?"
"We've got proof that you don't wanna know. You hear anything about Dust goin' to B5 you tell me, okay?"
She nodded as he turned to leave.
Zack walked the domes of the colony, hoping to get
lucky and bump into Drake by accident. It didn't seem likely with
the amount of people milling about.
Silently, he chided himself for blowing his cover to Schot. How could I have been so stupid? What the Hell did I have to go on, a link? For all I know, it was stolen. This is going to turn out to be the worst case of self destruction since the Bonehead maneuver. I just know it.
He finally decided it was about time to check in with his "baby sitter" and returned to his quarters. Upon arrival, he found his matress already beeping incessently.
He switched it on. "-with flat landers. Repete, this is White Star to hidden comet, do not respond. The bee keeper has crash landed on Proxima with flat landers. Repete, this is White Star to hidden comet, do not respond..."
If this was one of Marcus' pranks, he was really gonna get an ear full when they both got back to B5.
Setting those thoughts aside, Zack set about deciphering the message.
He wasn't supposed to respond. It was more than likely someone knew he was here and Marcus decided the risk was far less if they couldn't home in on any radio waves going out.
The rest was a complete mystery. Who was the bee keeper? A mole? An invading commander? What? And what did crashing on Proxima have to do with it?
He wracked his brain for a plausable theory. He even worked it out on paper, writing down all the possibilities for the bee keeper and flat landers and crash landings.
He sat looking at the small peices of paper for almost an hour, hypothesizing and hitting dead ends.
He was started from his thoughts when the chime to his door rang.
Deciding that the papers would mean nothing to anyone who looked at them without the back stroy he'd had, he left them where they were and answered the door.
Corporal Schot was on the other side, still dressed in "costume."
"Can I help you with something?" Zack asked her.
Karen steeled herself for her next question. "What kind of proof do you have?"
Zack was puzzeled for a moment, them remembered their last conversation. He motioned her inside and closed the door.
"This had better not be a trick, pal, or I'm gonna take it out of your..." Schot trailed off as she watched Zack reach under the matress of the room's bed and pull out a small device. He pressed a button and it made a raspy, squeeling sound. He looked at it once, then tossed it to her.
"Whoa," she said, examining it, "a jammer. A good one, too. You're serious about this."
"You bet we are," said Zack, "there is an all-out war going on out there. I don't even pretend to understand the specifics of it all but it involves the Vorlons and something the Minbari call Shadows. The Vorlons seem to be on our side, but who really knows for sure. The Shadows are on nobody's side but their own and are carving up the galaxy. But the thing that irks me most is that no one on almost any other colony knows about it. And it's because they've gotten to Earthdome. They were behind the death of Santiago, using Clark as some kind of agent or somethin', I don't know."
Karen seemed like a deer in headlights under the barrage of information. "This sounds crazy even if it's sketchy."
"Does it? ISN broadcast gun camera footage of a ship in Hyperspace. The pilot who was flying the 'fury was killed shortly there after. He'd seen it before and went out looking for it. He brought back horror stories about screams in your mind when it passed and all kind'sa crazy stuff. We all thought he was nuts. But he was right. Even in vids, they scream through your head like nials on a chalkboard."
"Oh, my God," Karen whispered, "I remember seeing that. Did you know the guy?"
"Keffer? Yeah. He was one of the most down to Earth guys out there."
"So you believe all this?"
Schot paced over to the small desk in the corner and leaned on it. "This is too much," she said, "I mean aliens in Earthdome? No way, they'd catch 'em. Hey, what's this?" She picked up the peice of paper that Zack had been previously working on. "What's a bee keeper? I suppose he goes off and battles all the creatures out there that are repelled by light and laughter?"
"You know. The old story about Beowulf versus Grendel. That's what Beowulf means you know."
"The bee keeper has crash landed," Zack repeted to himself.
"What does that mean? Do you know something about someone named Beowulf?"
"No, just a con artist grabbing for money. I think Shaeffer would tell anyone anything they'd want to hear."
"Shaeffer? Beowulf Shaeffer?"
She grabbed his hand and made her way to the door. "Come with me."
"Where are we going?"
"But that might blow your cover."
"I'll take the risk. This may have to do with both of our little mysteries."
She made no pretense at trying to act like a barkeep. She just led him to her quarters, like two people going to a business appointment. When they got there, she went immidiately for a bookshelf and picked out a title.
"Ever read any Nivin?" Karen asked handing it to him.
"No, never heard of him," he said, taking the book. It was called Crashlander.
"Beowulf Shaeffer was a freelance pilot from a planet where the people were called Crashlanders," Schot continued, "he was the main charactor of quite a few of Nivin's stories."
Zack turned the book over and skimmed the back. The title of the book's third story caught his eye. "Flatlander" it was called. "What's this one about?" he asked Karen.
"The charactor meets a guy from Earth who wants to have an adventure. For some reason, people from Earth are called Flatlanders."
"Bee keeper has crashlanded with flatlanders," Zack repeted.
"So, this guy you know, isn't from around here and has come with guys from Earth. So Beowulf Shaeffer is just a cover, too!"
"And he's a mole. But why would he want to lead me on in the right direction for finding the dust smugglers? If he's from Earth he has to know that the stuff is causing problems back on B5. Otherwise I wouldn't be here."
"So why would he help you stableize the situation?"
"I dunno," Zack admitted, "but I still have reason to believe that Drake is behind the Dust smuggling. Maybe Shaeffer is, too."
"Gut instinct. But I still don't know for sure. Damn! If I could just talk ta' Marcus."
"And you can't respond because they're looking for your signal. Why don't you just use normal channels; they won't be looking for those."
"No, then it would be on record and they'd catch it sooner or later. It looks like I'm on my own."
"You mean, I'm on my own," said Schot, "he's a mole, that means this is my case."
"Wait just one damn minute! If this guy's connected to the Dust back on B5, it's my case. Ya' can't just throw me off."
"You've been compromised. Shaeffer knows who you are, so why don't you just head back to the station before anything else happens."
"But if he's really a mole, he won't wanna get found out. I don't think he'll go blabbering around the place about me, he'd be picked up too soon."
"Okay, let's assume you're right. So how do you plan on catching this guy?"
"He's connected to Harry Drake. I get Drake, I get Shaeffer and stop the Dust smuggleing."
"Niether of them'll get more'n a few weeks in a cell back at B5, then it'll start all over again. If you help me catch them on both charges, we'll add your sentence on to ours and keep them here, deal?"
Zack sighed. "I dunno if I can say yes or no officially, but yeah, for now, you've got a deal."
"Whatever, we can sort it out later," Karen said placeing the Nivin book back on the shelf, "so hotshot, where do we go from here?"
Allan contemplated his situation. He'd found one person in the entire colony whom he could marginally trust, he hadn't found the one key person he needed to find, and his charator had been seen through by a mole from Earth who'd just happened to say the right thing at the right time. "Short of straight ta' Hell, I'm open to suggestions."
"Typical," Karen sighed.
* * *
"Pass me a pad," Karen said from accross the table.
"What for?" Zack asked.
"By now we should be negotiating a price for... whatever it is we're bargaining for. What are you supposed to be dealing in anyway?"
Zack hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should let the other shoe drop. "Beer glasses," he responded, "cheap beer glasses."
It seemed all Karen could do to keep from falling out of her chair laughing. "That boss a' yours sure has a sense of humor, doesn't he." She scribbled a few letters on the paper, pushed it over to him and asked "is he gone yet?"
Zack glanced at the paper, then at Shaeffer and one of his business partners accross the way behind Karen. "No," he said shaking his head.
"Damn, when is this guy gonna leave. He's been there for almost a half an hour. What can they possibly be negotiating?"
"Dust," said Zack simply, "I've seen that guy come through the station before. He's been picked up on minor possesion a few times."
"We could just pick him up now, if that's all it takes."
"No, I don't think he's the head honcho. If we can bring down whoever's runnin' this operation, it'll be better for everyone. Besides, he's a mole, so others in Drake's syndicate might be, too."
"True," Schot agreed scribbleing on another peice of paper. She passed it to Zack. "Is he gone yet?"
Zack again glanced at Shaeffer's table and passed over the paper. "I think it's a go," he said.
Karen nodded, packed up her stuff and stood. Zack did likewise. They shook hands and left the bussiness area of the Proxima colony down different halls.
After giving it a few moments, they reentered at different times and approached Shaeffer's table.
Shaeffer was sitting alone, going over a few peices of paper when Zack arrived. "I told you, Callahan," he said as Zack sat, "I'm through with you."
"Oh don't worry," said Zack, settleing in, "I just came to give a news update. Stocks are down again. And places that used to be part of the Earth Alliance but broke away seem to be having mole problems lately. Oh, and some guy in the bussiness area of Proxima III had their intestines splattered against that wall just behind you by a PPG that seemed to come from under the table he was sitting at."
Shaeffer looked up at him, skeptically.
"It's true," Zack continued, "just a couple a' minutes from now."
Just then, Karen came over and joined Zack. "Hey Mike, nice to see you again," she said, "and you must be Mr. Shaeffer. A pleasure." She stuck out a hand for him to shake.
Edgeily, Shaeffer took it and gave it a shake. "And you are?"
"This is my business partner, Ms. Pelton," said Zack, "now get both hands on top of the table where we can see 'em."
"And don't try anything," added Schot, sitting, "or that wall gets a fresh coat a' paint."
"Now, Mr. Shaeffer. Well, supposedly Mr. Shaeffer, but for arguement's sake, we'll call you Mr. Shaeffer," said Zack as the trader's hands appeared on the table top and folded neatly albeit tensely, "you have the power ta change the future. That last little news blurb doesn't hafta happen. And it won't as long as you tell us what we wanna know. Got it?"
Shaeffer nodded, tightly.
Zack stood, smiling tensely down at Shaeffer.
"It's a lot healthier this way, you realize," he told the mole. "But,
will you please come with us."
"What the hell, Callahan ..."
"Hey, I just agreed we wouldn't paint the wall with your insides. I never said I'd let you go back to your boss and rat on us."
"That ain't fair..."
"That's right. What's your point?" Zack paused, glowering at Shaeffer. When no answer was forthcoming, Zack grabbed the man's arm and yanked him to his feet. "Come on."
The three rounded a corner into the less reputable section of Proxima.
"So, Einstien, what do we do with him?" Schot asked Zack.
Zack stopped in the middle of the hall, placing a hand on Shaeffer's shoulder to stop him. He looked at Schot, a little confused.
"You do realize, he'll rat on us," she continued, "we can't exactly take him with us."
"She's right, Dutch Boy, I'm not exactly stupid," Sheaffer stated, by way of excuse.
"Shut up!" Zack snapped. "Well, we can't just leave him anywhere else."
Karen turned to the wall, frustrated. "I don''t believe this. What kind of boss you got, anyhow? I can see you didn't really have to pass a big intellegence test to get this job."
"Suicide mission," Sheaffer stated.
"Shut up!" The two officers snapped in unison.
"He's right though," said a voice from the shadows.
"You're not kidding," sighed Zack, "where the Hell have you been?"
Marcus stepped out of the shadows, pike in hand, over his shoulder. "I see you got my message."
"Who the Hell are you?"
"Let's just have a tea party now!" Sheaffer interjected.
"Shut up!" The other three chimed together.
"Marcus, Dianna Pelton, Dianna, my Babcom line."
"Pelton, I thought you were-"
"Shut up!" Schot and Zack snapped at Marcus.
"Oh. Right, lips are sealed."
"So you're Marcus?" said Schot. "You came at just the right time. We have a bit of garbage for you to take out."
"I see," Marcus said, carefully, "with or without the pre-compacting?"
"It doesn't matter," said Zack, "we just need him out of our hair. Now, Mr. Sheaffer, remember what I said about paint? Forget that, think carpet."
"Oh what's next? Duct tape?"
"That's not a bad idea," said Marcus.
"Go with it," said Zack, "we'll meet you at the Black Dwarf in six hours."
"Se ya' later, Dupont!" Shaeffer shouted back at Zack and Schot as Marcus led him down the hall.
"You're crazy!" Shaeffer cried. "Let me down
from here!" Marcus leaned back and looked up.
"Oh, stop whining. Gray really is your color. Carefull, you don't want to pull yourself down from there. Duct tape will pull your skin off." Shaeffer, two or three feet above the floor, struggled against his bonds, trying to get free. However, the duct tape was firmly attatched and Marcus had used so much of it that there was no way in hell he would be getting down from the wall anytime soon.
"Yeah, yeah," Shaeffer shot back at the Ranger, "and I have a dark side like it and the Force." Marcus smiled at him.
"Well, it's been fun hanging out with you," he told Shaeffer. "But I'm thinking I could be of more use elsewhere now."
Marcus exited Zack's rented quarters with bravado.
"Hey, you crazy freak!" Shaeffer called after him.
Momentairily, Marcus re-entered. "I almost forgot," he said, pulling off a length of tape from what remained of the roll. "The nieghbors don't like a lot of noise." He placed the length over Shaeffer's mouth, gave him a pat on the cheek and left.
Zack and Karen peered in the window, down on
the knees outside of the building Shaeffer had directed them to.
"That's Drake on the left," Zack whispered to Karen. "Do you know
that other guy?"
"Yeah. That's Jack Barnet. We've suspected him of smuggling for awhile--never could get him pegged with anything though."
The door that led to the room opened suddenly and in walked a short, balding man with a redish-grey mustache. Zack's eyes narrowed and he turned to Karen. "That's Larry Sommers. We caught him once dealing dust on Babylon 5. Unfortunatley, we didn't have enough evidence to put him away for good. He served a couple months, haven't seen him since."
"Great, so you sent him over here," Schot quipped.
"Hey, it wan'd't my fault!"
"Whatever. So where do we go from here, genious?"
"Well," Zack said, his voice trailing off. "I think we could-" THUD. Zack never finished his sentence. Seconds later, Schot followed him into unconciousness.
Zack awoke with a huge headache and the feeling that
something was definetley not kosher.
That was an understatement, he reflected, as he discovered that he couldn't move his hands.
No, not kosher indeed.
Using his elbows, he levered himself into a sitting position and looked around.
Dark room, creative.
Momentairily, he heard a low moan from about three yards away.
"Who's there?" He asked.
"Just an old prisoner like yourself, boy," came a gruff and condecesding answer.
"Give it up for Reebo and Zooty, folks," Zack responded, cryptically, "nice going, I thought this was your turf."
"Well, if you wouldn't have been talking so loud, maybe they wouldn't have found us."
"Why is it always my fault?"
" 'Cause this is my turf."
"So that's why we're stuck in a dark room, God only knows where." He figured she shrugged, but since it was dark he could not see. "So where do we go from here?"
"Shut up! Last time you asked that question our heads were used as baseballs!"
"As I recall, Karen, you were the one who asked that question." There was a long moment of silence in which he could almost feel her glare through the dark. She didn't comment, and he was kept from it as the door slid open, filling the room with sudden, unexpected light and causing his eyes to squint painfully.
"Zack Allan I presume?" Zack had a bad feeling about this.
"Smooth move, Ex-Lax," Karen said to him. "You blew your own blasted cover."
"How else does he know your name, dumb-ass!"
"Shut up!" both Zack and their captor said in unison. Only their captor continued.
"We've been looking out for you, Zack. They're not happy with what you did."
Which part? Zack wondered, before speaking. "They're not the only ones, whoever they are. But glad to be of service, at any rate." His eyes were adjusting to the light, and he made out the forms in the door. One was Drake, the other was probably Sommers.
"Both of you, out," Drake commanded.
The room was incredibly bright. Zack's head
ached, pulsing with the blow he'd recieved to the back of his skull.
Probably needed stitches, he assumed.
A highly muscled man pushed him into a chair with a thud, another doing the same to Schot next to him.
"So, I never thought I'd be the one to run into you," Drake directed at Zack.
"Glad to know I'm famous," said Zack, "but for what?"
"You have no idea who I am, do you?"
"Not a clue," Karen interjected, "but I'm sure I don't like you. What am I, chopped liver?"
Drake rose from his comfey chair and circled them. "Naïve aren't you, my dear. I suppose he never told you what he was doing last year and until the tenth of April?"
Zack gave a small sigh, knowing what was comming and who Drake was.
"No, not really," said Schot.
"Shut up!" Zack snapped.
"The truth hurts, doesn't it?" said Drake.
"No, the board did!"
"Did that door in the docking bay of Babylon 5?"
"Zack, what is he talking about?"
"Shut up!" Zack repeated.
"You, the traitor of Nightwatch!"
"Who turned in all your friends for that self-righteous command staff!"
Zack all but launched himself at Drake in hopes of tackeling him to the floor.
Drake, smileing a crooked smile, simply stepped aside and watched as Zack was caught by the muscle behind. He was sent to his knees by a firm whack to his legs.
"Don't presume, you have any control whatsoever," said Drake, "you're in quite a situation. And a long way from home."
Zack glared at him, fire in his eyes. "Go ta' Hell! I'm not the traitor! Unless you're someone from B5 or someone with access to all the Nightwatch files, you wouldn't know who I am on sight. And since you're not the former, you must be the latter. Which means you've gotta be fairly high up, right?"
Drake clapped his hands together with a measure of bravado. "Bravo! I knew there had to be some kind of a backbone in there."
"Me, too," Karen quipped.
"Quiet!" Snapped Drake. "You're not involved in this. You're just not in the right place at the right time."
"Let her go," Zack demanded, "if it's me you want-"
"Not exactly," Drake interrupted, "you're of little importance in the grand sceme of things. At least, not any more. Unless you're a major leader, which you're not, one person isn't going to change the scope of things. I'm here to mix things up a bit, keep 'em guessing."
"Dust," Schot realized, "you're directing the Dust to places around this area of space to destabalize all the newly autonomous colonies."
Drake went over to Karen and looked her in the eye with an arrogant smile on his face. "My dear, I do believe you've hit it on the nose."
"Or the head," Zack mumbled. He recieved a cold glare from Drake and a sharp kick from the muscle.
Suddenly, from an air duct above them came a crash. Through the grating came Marcus, wielding his pike. He landed on the floor and spun on the nearest muscle.
"Allo, am I alarming you?" Down went the muscle behind Zack with a tremendus thud.
Karen took advantage of the mayhem and shot to her feet. She kicked the chair she'd previously been occupying into the muscle behind her.
"Miss me?" Marcus asked of Zack, jokingly as he untied his hands.
"You have no idea." Zack said as Marcus pushed a PPG into his hand. He leveled it at Drake as Marcus made his way over to Schot and began to untie her hands.
"Stop!" He demanded.
Drake had meanwhile made his way over to his desk. He whipped out a PPG of his own and leveled it at Karen and Marcus.
Before he even knew what was happening, Zack kicked into full-battle auto pilot. He pushed aside the second muscle and dove for the Proxima offcer and the Ranger. He pushed them aside and the blast caught his arm. He let out a small yelp and dropped the PPG.
Marcus, pike still in hand, thumped the second muscle to the floor.
Zack and Karen picked themselves off the floor, Schot grabbing the PPG on the way.
Through the air went Marcus' pike, hitting Drake's hand and knocking the PPG out of his grasp.
Karen leveled the PPG at Drake.
"That's enough from you."
Zack tottered over to Marcus, arm in hand. Schot grabbed a length of rope off the ground and circled around Drake, still pointing the PPG at him. A moment later, he was the one with tied hands.
"Looks like you've had better days," said Marcus to Zack.
Zack's response was a lillte unexpected. He collapsed to the ground, unconcious.
Zack was aware of himself, even though he could not feel anything. The first thing he noticed was a steady, rhythmic beeping, and the sharp pain in his arm. Damn, he thought to himself, each moment bringing him closer to conciousness. At long last he opened his eyes, slightly confused, and glanced around. It was obviously a MedLab, although he could not remember much of what had happened to him, and the steady beeping was a heart monitor connected to himself. Sitting up slowly against the pain in his head and arm, he glanced around for a familiar face. "Lay down, genious!" a familiar, grating voice told him. Groaning slightly, he nonetheless lay back down obediently. Karen Schot wheeled herself into the room, seated in a wheelchair. "That's pretty stupid with the concussion you got. Not to mention you lost a lot of blood."
"Nice to see you too," Zack commented, rolling his eyes, something which he realized immediatley he shouldn't have done. The pain intensified briefly, and Zack shut his eyes tightly. "Damn it," he muttered.
"Easy. Don't want to mess your mind up any more than it already is."
"Shut up!" he told her firmly. "I don't want to hear about it. I don't want to deal with it. I just want to go back to Babylon 5 and have a nice, long nap. And a vacation. I think I'm due for a vacation."
"Oh, shut up, stupid. I'm sure that PPG burn alone will keep you off the job for a week or so. But hey," her mood changed drastically and she, at least for a moment, dropped her bitchy attitude. "It was good working with you, Allan."
"No, no no. Zack. Call me Zack. Only people who hate me call me Allan."
"Is there a difference?"
"Shut up. I don't want to hear about it. I don't care anymore. You got Shaeffer, we got Drake, this, as far as I'm concerned, is over. And quite honestly, it's not a moment too soon."
"Nice working with you too," she said, turning to wheel herself out of the room. "But, when all's said and done, we were a fairly decent team. Too bad your intelligence isn't higher... we might have made a match of it." Zack cringed at the thought as she left the room, Marcus taking her place.
"Had about enough of her?" Marcus asked at his cringe.
"Hell yeah." Zack replied, closing his eyes. "I just want to go back to B5, and take a nice, long nap."
"That can be arranged. Come on, I've got your walking papers, provided you go straight to the MedLab on the White Star."
"That sounds great." A nurse came in and disconnected the machines.
"Right to that MedLab when you get there, Mr. Allan." Zack nodded as Marcus helped him up.
"Oh, by the way," Marcus commented. "I heard from Mr. Garibaldi a while ago. He told me he thought you did a great job. And he also says that you'd better stay off your feet for a while."
"You mean a vacation?"
"No, just sick leave."
"Fine, I'll take it."
Zack sat in his quarters, reading a book with some
music playing when the door chimed. "Computer, end program."
Abruptly, the music stopped and Zack put aside his book. "Come in,"
he said, standing.
The door slid aside and Garibaldi entered, hands in pockets. "Hey," he said, "just stoppin' by to see how it's goin'."
"No where but here."
"A message came for you from Proxima," said the Chief, producing a data crystal and handing it to his second. "Have ta get goin'. I'll see ya' tomorrow."
Garibaldi exited leaving Zack alone, pondering what to do with the message.
He had a feeling he knew who it was from.
Sighing, he popped it into the port.
It was a text message. "Hey Einstien, thought you'd appriciate this. BEE a good boy for that boss of yours. See ya' never, Karen Schott."
He scrolled down and found a title.
Zack ripped the crystal from the port and threw it across the room in annoyance.