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On Final Approach to Babylon 5:  6/3/62

The convoy winked in, the carrier Australia first, and then the ten freighters----more as Australia loosed her four riders and the protective formation spread itself wide in its approach to Babylon 5's star, Babylon 4.

Here was refuge, one secure place the war had never yet reached, but it was the lapping of the tide.  The worlds of the far Further was winning, and certainties were changing, on both sides of the line.

On the bridge of the TS 6, the jump-carrier Australia, there was rapid activity, the four auxiliary command boards monitoring the riders, the long aisle of com operations and that of scan and that of their own command Australia was in constant comlink with the ten freighters, and the reports passed back and forth on those channels were terse, ships' operations only.  Australia was too busy for human disasters.

No ambushes.  Babylon 5 received signal and gave a reluctant welcome.  Relief whispered from post to post of the carrier, private, not carried on intership com. Talia Winters, Australia's captain, relaxed muscles she had not known were tense and ordered armscomp downgraded to standby.

She held command over this flock, third captain in seniority of the fifteen of Clark's Fleet.  She was forty-nine.  The Furtherman Rebellion was far older than that; and she'd been freighter pilot, rider captain, the whole nine yards, all in Terradyne's service.  Her face was still young.  Her hair was silver gray.  The rejuv treatments which caused the gray kept the rest of her at somewhere near biological thirty-six; and considering what she shepherded in and what it portended, she felt aged beyond the forty-nine.

She leaned back in her cushion, which looked over the upcurving, narrow aisles of the bridge, punched in on her arm console to check operations, stared out over the active stations and the screens which showed what vid picked up and what scan had  Safe.  She lived by never quite believing such estimations.

And by adapting.  They all did, all of them who fought this war.  Australia was like her crew, varied salvage:  of Pluto and Mexico and Sea of Tranquility and jinxed Pollux C, parts of her dating all the way back to the days of the freighter war.  They took what they could, gave up as little as possible......as from the refugee ships she guided, under her protection.  There had been in decades before, a time of chivalry in the war, of quixotic gestures, of enemy rescuing enemy and parting under truce.  They were human and the Great Dark was wide, and they all had known it.  No more.  From among these civilians, neutrals, she had extracted the useful ones for herself, a handful who might adapt.  There would be protests at Babylon 5 but it would do them no good.  No protests would, on this or other matters.  The war had taken another turn, and they were out of painless choices.

They moved slowly, at the crawl which was the best the freighters could manage in realspace, distance Australia or the riders, unencumbered, could cross pushing light.  They had come in dangerously close to the mass of Babylon 4, out of plane with the system, risking jump accident and collisions.  It was the only way these freighters could make haste---and lives rode on making time.

"We are receiving approach instructions from Babylon 5," com told her.

"Krebbs," she said to her lieutenant, "take her in." And punching in another channel:  "Tigh, put all troops on standby, full arms and gear." She switched back to com:  "Advise Babylon 5 it had better evacuate a section and seal it.  Tell the convoy if anyone breaks formation during approach we'll blow them.  Make them believe it."

"Got it," com senior said: and in due time:  "Station-master's on in person."

The stationmaster protested.  She had expected it.

"You do it," she told him----Michael Garibaldi, of the Garibaldis of Babylon 5. "You clear that section or we do.  You start now, strip out everything of value or hazard, down to the walls; and you put those doors on lock and weld the access panels shut.  You don't know what we're bringing you.  And if you delay us, I may have a shipload dead: Tycho's life support is going. You do it, Mr. Garibaldi, or I send the troops in.  And if you don' t do it right, Mr. Garibaldi, and you have refugees scattered like vermin all over your station, with no ID's and ugly-desperate.  Forgive my bluntness, but I've got people dying in their own filth.  We number seven thousand frightened civs on these ships, what left Olympia and Asgard.  They're out of choices and time.  You're not going to tell me no, sir."

There was a pause, distance, and even more than enough delay for distance.  "We've sounded the evacuation for sections of yellow and orange dock, Captain Winters.  Medical services will be available, all that we can spare.  Emergency crews are moving.  We copy regarding sealing of the affected areas.  Security plans will be put in motion at once.  We hope that your concern is as great for our citizens.  This station will not permit the military to interfere in our internal security operations or to jeopardize our neutrality, but assistance under our command will be appreciated.  Out."

Winters relaxed slowly, wiped sweat from her face, drew an easier breath.  "Assistance will be given, sir.  Estimated docking---four hours, if I delay this convoy all I can.  I can give you that much time to get ready.  Has news about Asgard gotten to you yet?  It was blown, sir, sabotage.  Out."

"We copy four hours.  We appreciate the measures you urge us to take and we're taking them in earnest.  We are distressed to hear about the Asgard disaster. Request detailed briefing.  Further advise you we have a Terradyne team here at the moment.  It's highly distressed at these proceedings."

She breathed an obscenity into the com.

"----and they're demanding to have all of your turned down for some other station.  My staff is attempting to explain to them the condition of the ships and the hazard to life aboard them, but they're putting pressure on us. They consider Babylon 5's neutrality threatened.  Kindly appreciate that in your approach and bear in mind that Terradyne agents have requested contact with you in person.  Out."

She repeated the obscenity, expelled a breath.  The Fleet avoided such meetings when possible, rare as they were in the last decade.  "Tell them I'll be busy.  Keep them off the docks and out of our area.  Do they need pictures of starving colonists to take back with them?  Bad press, Mr. Garibaldi.  Keep them out of our way.  Out."

"They're armed with government papers.  Security Council.  That kind of Terradyne team.  They have rank to use and they're demanding transport deeper Further.  Out."

She chose a second obscenity but swallowed it.  "Thank you, Mr. Garibaldi.  I'll capsule you my recommendations on procedures with the refugees; they've been worked out in detail.  You can, of course, ignore them, but I wouldn't recommend it.  We can't even guarantee you that what we're disembarking on Babylon 5 isn't armed.  We can't get among them to find out.  Armed troops can't get in here, you got that?  That's what we're giving you. I'd advise you keep the Terradyne boys out of our docking area entirely before we have hostages to deal with.  Copy?  Transmission terminated."

"We copy.  Thank you, captain.  Transmission terminated."

She slumped in place, glared at the screens and shot an order to com to capsule the instructions to station command. 

Terradyne men. And refugees from lost stations. Information kept coming steadily from stricken Tycho, with a calm on the part of its crew she admired.  Strictly procedures. They were dying over there.   Crew was sealed into command and armed, refusing to abandon ship, refusing to let a rider take Tycho in tow.  It was their ship. They stayed by it and did what they could for those aboard, by remote.  They had no thanks from the passengers, who were tearing the ship apart---or had been doing so, until the air fouled and the systems started to break down.

Four hours!

Australia.  Asgard had met disaster, and Olympia.  Rumor ran through the station corridors, aboil with the confusion and anger of residents and companies aboil with the confusion and anger of residents and companies that had been turned out with all their property.  Volunteers and native workers aided in the evacuation; dock crews used the loading machinery to move personal belongings out of the area selected for quarantine, tagging items and trying not to confuse them or permit pilferage.  Com echoed with announcements.

"Residents of yellow one through one nineteen are asked to send a representative to the emergency housing desk.  There is a lost child at the aid station, Linda Gregory. Will a relative please come at once to the aid station?----Latest estimates from station central indicate housing available in guest residency, one thousand units.  All nonresidents are being removed in favor of permanent station residents, priority to be determined by lottery.  Apartments available by condensation of occupied units:  ninety-two.  Compartments available for emergency conversion to residential space, two thousand, including public meeting areas and some mainday/alterday rotation of occupancy.  The station council urges any person with personal arrangements possible through lodging with relatives or friends to secure same and to key this information to comp at the earliest possible; housing on private initiative will be compensated to the home resident at a rate equivalent to per capita expense for other housing.  We are five hundred units deficient and this will require barracks-style housing for on-station residency, or transfer on a temporary basis for Babylon 5 residency, unless this deficiency can be made up by volunteering of housing or willingness of individuals to share assigned living space.  Plans are to be considered immediately for residential use of section blue, which should free five hundred units within the next one hundred eighty days....Thank you....Will a security team please report to eight yellow?"

It was a nightmare.  Michael Garibaldi stared at the flow of print9out and intermittently paced the matted floors of dock command blue sector, just above the docks where techs tried to cope with the logistics of evacuation.  Two hours left.  He could see from the series of windows the chaos all along the docks where personal belongings had been piled under police guard.  Everyone and every installation in yellow and orange sector's ninth through fourth levels had been displaced: dockside shops, homes, four thousand people crowded elsewhere.  The influx spilled past blue, around the rim to green and white, the big main residence sectors.  Crowds milled about, bewildered and distraught.  They understood the need: they moved---everyone on station was subject to such transfers of residence, for repairs, for reorganizations----but never on this kind of notice and never on this scale, and never without knowing where they were to be assigned.  Plans were cancelled, four thousand lives upset.  Merchant kings of the two-score freighters which happened to be in dock had been rudely ousted from sleepover accommodations and security did not want them on the docks or near the ships.  His wife, Lise, was down there in a knot of them, a slim figure in pale green.  Liaison with the merchant kings, which was angry and mediated sending station police down there for Lise's protection, but Lise seemed to be matching them shout for shout, all lost in the soundproofing and the general buzz of voices and machine noise which faintly penetrated the elevated command post.  Suddenly there were shrugs, and hands offered all around, as if there had been no quarrel at all.  Some matter was either settled or postponed, and Lise walked away and the merchant kings strode off through the weary crowds, though with shakes of their heads and unhappiness evident.  Lise had disappeared beneath the slanted windows----to the lift, to come up here, Michael hoped.  Off in green section his own office was dealing with an angry-resident protest; and there was the Terradyne delegation fretting in station central making demands of its own on his father. 

"Will a medical team  please report to section eight yellow?" com asked silkily.  Someone was in trouble, off in the evacuated sections.

The lift doors opened into the command center.  Lise joined him, her face still flushed from argument.

"Central's gone stark raving mad," she said. "The merchant kings were moved out of hospice and told they had to lodge on their ships; and now they've got station police between them and their ships.  They're wanted to cast off from station.  They don't want their ships mobbed in some impromptu evacuation.  Read it that they'd just as soon be out of Babylon 5's vicinity entirely at the moment.   Bester's been known to recruit merchant kings at gunpoint."

"What'd you tell them?"

"To stand fast and figure that there are going to be some contracts handed out for supplies to take care of this influx; but they won't go to any ship that bolts the dock, or that tangles with our police.  And that's got the lid on them, at least for a while."

Lise was afraid.  It was clear behind the brittle, busy calm.  They were all afraid.  He slipped his arm about her; hers fitted his waist and she leaned there, saying nothing.  Merchant queen Letitia Colton, off the freighter Pegasus, which had gone its way to Olympia, and to Asgard.  She had missed that run for him, to consider tying herself to a station for good, for his sake; and now she ended up trying to reason with angry crews who were probably right and sensible in her eyes, with the military in their laps.  He viewed matters in a cold, quiet panic, stationer's fashion.  Things which went wrong onstation went wrong sitting still, by quadrants and by sections, and there was a certain fatalism bred of it:  if one was in a safe zone, one stayed there; if one had a job which could help, one did it; and if it was one's own area in trouble, one still sat fixed----it was the only heroism possible.  A station couldn't shoot, couldn't run, could only suffer damage and repair it if there was time.  Merchant kings had other philosophies and different reflexes in times of trouble.

"It's all right," he said, tightening his arm briefly.  He felt her answering pressure.  "It's not coming here.  They're just putting civilians far behind the lines.  They'll stay here till the crisis is over and then go back.  If not, we've had big influxes before, when they shut down the last of the Barrier Stars.  We added sections.  We'll do it again. We just get larger."

Lise said nothing.  There were dire rumors drifting through com and down the corridors regarding the extent of the disaster at Asgard, and Pegasus was not one of the incoming freighters.  They knew that now for sure.  She had hoped, when they had gotten the first news of the arrival; and feared, because there was damaged reported on those ships out there, moving at freighters' slow pace, jammed with passengers they were never designed to handle, in the series of small jumps a freighter's limited range made necessary.  It added up to days and days in realspace as far as they had come in, and living hell on those vessels.  There was some rumor they had not had sufficient drugs to get them through jump, that some had made it without.  He tried to imagine it---reckoned Lise's worry.  Pegasus's absence from that convoy was good news and bad.  Likely she had shied off her declared course, catching wind of trouble, and gone elsewhere in a hurry----still cause for anxiety, with the war heating up on the edge.  A station---gone, blown.  Olympia's evacuating personnel.  The safe edge was suddenly much too close, much too fast.

"It's likely," he said, wishing that he could save the news for another day, but she had to know, "that we'll be moved to blue, into maybe cramped quarters.  The clean-clearance personnel are the ones that can be transferred to that section. Sorry, but we'll have to be among the ones to go."

She shrugged. "That's okay. It's arranged?"

"It will be."

A second time she shrugged; they lost their home and she shrugged, staring at the windows onto the docks below, and the crowds, and the merchant kings' ships.

"It's not coming here," he insisted, trying to believe it, for Babylon 5 was his home, in a way no merchant king was likely to understand.  Garibaldis had built this place, from the days of its beginning.  "Whatever Terradyne losses----not Babylon 5."

And a moment later, moved by conscience if not by courage:  "I've got to get over there, onto the quarantine docks."

Australia eased in ahead of the others, with the hubbed, unsightly cylinder of Babylon 5 a gleaming sprawl in her vid screens.  The riders were fanned out, fending off the freighters for the moment.   The merchant king crews in command of those refugee ships wisely held the line, giving her no trouble.  The pale crescent of Babylon 4 hung beyond the station, swirled with storms.  They matched up with Babylon 5's signal, drawing even with the flashing lights on the area designated for their docking.  The cone which would receive their nose probe glowed blue with the come aheads.  SECTION ORANGE, the distorted letters read on vid, beside a tangle of solar vanes and panels.  Winters punched in scan, saw things where they should be on Babylon 5's narrowed image.  Constant chatter flowed from Babylon 5 central and the ship channels, keeping a dozen techs busy at com.

They entered final approach, lost gee gently as Australia's rotating inner cylinder, slung gutwise in its frame, slowed and locked to docking position, all personnel decks on the station's up and down.  They felt other stresses magnified for a time, a series of reorientations.  The cone loomed, easy dock, and they met the grapple, a dragging confirmation of the last slam of gee----opened accesses for Babylon 5's dock crews, stable now, and solidly part of Babylon 5's rotation.

"I'm getting an all-quiet on dockside," Krebbs said.  "The stationmaster's police are all over the place."

"Message," com said. "Babylon 5 stationmaster to Australia:  request military cooperation with desks set up to facilitate processing as per your instructions.  All procedures are as you requested, with the stationmaster's compliments, captain."

"Reply:  Tycho coming in immediately with crisis in lifesupport and possible riot conditions.  Stay back of our ends.  Endit.----Krebbs, take over operations.  Tigh, get me those troops out on that dock doubletime."

She left matters there, rose and strode back through the narrow bowed aisles of the bridge to the small compartment which served her as office and oftentimes sleeping quarters.  She opened the locker there and slipped on a jacket, slipped a pistol into her pocket.  It was not a uniform.  No one in the Fleet, maybe, possessed a full-regulation uniform.  Supply had been that bad, that long.  Her captain's circle on her collar was the only thing that set her apart from a merchant king.  The troops were no better uniformed, but armored:  that, they kept in condition, at all costs.  She hastened down via the lift into the lower corridor, proceeding amid the rush of troops Tigh Jantzen had ordered the to dock, combat-rigged, through the access tube and out into the cold wide spaces.

The whole dock was theirs, vast, upward-curving perspective, section arches curtained by ceiling as the station rim curve swept leftward toward gradual horizon; on the right a section seal was in use, stopping the eye there.  The place was vacant of all but the dock crews and their gantries; and station security and the processing desks, and those were well back of Australia's area.  There were no native workers, not here, not in this situation.  Debris lay scattered across the wide dock, papers, bits of clothing, evidencing a hasty withdrawal.   The dockside shops and offices were empty; the niner corridor midway of the dock showed likewise vacant and littered.  Tigh Jantzen's deep bellow echoed in the metal girders overhead as he ordered troops deployed about the area where Tycho was coming in.

Babylon 5 dockers moved up.  Winters watched and gnawed her lip nervously, glanced aside as a civ came up to her, youngish, darkly aquiline, bearing a tablet and looking like business in his neat blue suit.  The plug she had in one ear kept advising her of Tycho's status, a constant clamor of bad news.  "What are you?" she asked.

"Michael Garibaldi, captain, from Legal Affairs."

She spared a second look.  A Garibaldi.  He could be that.  Alfredo had had two boys prior to his wife's accident.  "Legal Affairs," she said with distaste.

"I'm here if you need anything....or if they do.  I've got a com link with central."

There was a crash.  Tycho had made a bad dock, grated down the guidance cone and shuddered into place.

"Get her hooked up and get out!" Tigh roared at the dock crews: no com for him.

Krebbs was ordering matters from Australia's command.  Tycho's crew would stay sealed on their bridge, working debarkation by remote.  "Tell them to walk out," she heard relayed from Krebbs.  "Any rush at troops will be met with gunfire."

The hookups were complete.  The ramp went into place.

"Move it!" Tigh bellowed.  Dockers pelted behind the lines of troops; rifles were leveled.  The hatch opened, a crash up the access tube.

A stench rolled out onto the chill of the dock.  Inner hatches opened and a living wave surged out, trampling each other, falling.  They screamed and shouted and rushed out like madmen, staggered as a burst of fire went over their heads.

"Hold it!" Tigh shouted. "Sit down where you are and put your hands on your heads."

Some were sitting down already, out of weakness; others sank down and compelled.  A few seemed too dazed to understand, but came no further.  The wave had halted.  At Winters's elbow Michael Garibaldi breathed a curse and shook his head.  No word of laws from him; sweat stood visibly on his skin.  His station stared riot in the face....collapse of systems, Tycho's death ten thousandfold.  There were a hundred, maybe a hundred fifty living, crouched on the dock by the umbilical gantry.  The ship's stench spread.  A pump labored, flushing air through Tycho's systems under pressure.  There were a thousand people on that ship.

"We're going to have go in there," Winters muttered, sick at the prospect.  Tigh was moving the others one at a time, passing them under guns into a curtained area where they were to be stripped, searched, scrubbed, passed on to the desks or to the medics.  Baggage there was none, not with this group, nor papers worth anything.

"Need a security team suited up for a contamination area," she told young Michael.  "And stretchers.  Get us a disposal area prepared.  We're going to vent the dead; it's all we can do. Have them ID'd as best you can, fingerprints, photos, whatever.  Every corpse passed out of here unidentified is future trouble for your security."

Michael looked ill.  That was well enough.  So did some of her troops.  She tried to ignore her own stomach.

A few more survivors had made their way to the opening of the access, very weak, almost unable to get down the ramp.  A handful, a scant handful.

New Orleans was coming in, her approach begun in her crew's panic, defying instructions and riders' threats.  She heard Krebb's voice reporting it, activated her own mike.  "Stall them off. Clip a vane off them if you have to.  We've got our hands full.  Get me a suit out here."

They found seventy-eight more living, lying among the decomposing dead.  The rest was cleanup, and no more threat.  Winters passed decontamination, stripped off the suit, sat down on the bare dock and fought a heaving stomach.  A civ aid worker chose a bad time to offer her a sandwich.  She pushed it away, took the local herbal coffee and caught her breath in the last of the processing of Tycho's living. The place stank now of antiseptic fogging.

A carpet of bodies in the corridors, blood, dead.  Tycho's emergency seals had gone into place during a fire.  Some of the dead had been can in two.  Some of the living had broken bones from being tramped in the panic.  Urine.  Vomit.  Blood.  Decay.  They'd had closed systems, had not had to breathe it.  The Tycho survivors had had nothing at the last but the emergency oxygen, and that had possibly been a case of murder.  Most of the living had been sealed into areas where the air had held out less fouled than the badly vented storage holds where most of the refugees had been crammed.

"Message from the stationmaster," com said into her ear, "requesting the captain's presence in station offices at the earliest."

"No," she sent back shortly.  They were bringing Tycho's dead out; there was some manner of religious service, assembly-line fashion, some amenity for the dead before venting them.  Caught in Babylon 4's gravity well, they would drift in that direction, eventually.  She wondered vaguely whether bodies burned in falling: likely, she thought.  She had not much to do with worlds.  She was not sure whether anyone had ever cared to find out.

New Orleans's fold were exiting in better order.  They pushed and shoved at first, but they stopped it when they saw the armed troops facing them.  Michael intervened with useful service over the portable loudspeaker, talking to the horrified civs in stationers' terms and throwing stationers' logic in their faces, the threat of damage to fragile balances, the kind of drill and horror story they must've heard all their confined lives.  Winters put herself on her feet again during the performance, still holding the coffee cup, watched with a calmer stomach as the procedures she had outlined began to function smoothly, those with papers to one area and those without to another, for photographing and ID by statement.  The handsome lad from Legal Affairs proved to have other uses, a voice of ringing authority when it regarded disputed paper or confused station staff.

"Tella's moving up on docking," Krebb's voice advised her.  "Station advises as they're wanted back five hundred units of confiscated housing based on Tycho's casualties."

"Negative," she said flatly.  "My respects to station command, but out of the question.  What's the current status of Tella?"

"Panicky. We've warned them."

"How many others are coming part?"

"It's tense everywhere. Don't trust it.  They could bolt, any one of them.  Brady was one dead, coronary, another ill.  I'm routing her in next.  Stationmaster asks whether you'll be available for conference in an hour.  I pick up that the Terradyne boys are making demands to get into this area."

"Keep stalling." She finished the coffee, walked along the lines in front of Tella's dock, the whole operation moving down a berth, for there was nothing left at Tycho's berth worth guarding.  There was quiet from the processed refugees.  They had the matter of locating their lodgings to occupy them, and the station's secure environment to comfort them, and the station's secure environment to comfort them. A suited crew stood by to move Tycho out; they had only four berths at this dock.  Winters measured with her eye the space the station had allotted them, five levels of two sections and the two docks.  Crowded, but they would manage for a while.  Barracks could solve some of it----temporarily.  Things would get tighter.  No luxuries, that was for damn sure.

They were not the only refugees adrift; they were just the first.  And upon that knowledge she kept her mouth shut.

It was Marilyn that broke the peace; a man caught with weapons in scan, a friend who turned ugly on his arrest: two dead, then, and sobbing, hysterical passengers afterward.  Winters watched it, simply tired, shook her head and ordered the bodies vented with the rest, while Michael approached her with angry arguments. "Martial law," she said, ending all discussion and walked away.

Krishna, Ruby, Little Joe, Dickens.  They came in with painful slowness, unloaded refuges and property, and the processing inches its way along. 

Winters left the dock then, went back aboard Australia and took a bath.  She scrubbed three times all over before she began to feel that the smell and the sights had left her.

Station had entered alterday; complaints and demands had fallen silent at least for a few hours.

Or if there were any.  Australia's alterday command fended them off her.

There was comfort for the night, company of sorts, a leave-taking.  He was another item of salvage from Olympia and Asgard----not for transport on other ships.  They would have torn him apart.  He knew this, and appreciated matters.  He had no taste for the crew, either, and understood his situation.

"You're getting off here," she told him, staring at him, who lay beside her.  The name was unimportant.  It confused itself in her memory with others, and sometimes she called him by the wrong one, late, when she was half asleep.  He showed no emotion at that statement, only blinked, indication that he had absorbed the fact.  The face intrigued her: innocence, maybe.  Contrasts intrigued her.  Beauty did.  "You're lucky," she said.  He reacted to that the same way that he reacted to most things.  He just stared, vacant and beautiful; they had played with his mind on Asgard.  There was a sordidness in her sometimes, a need to deal wounds....limited murder, to blot out the greater ones.  To deal little terrors, to forget the horror outside.  She had sometime nights with Krebbs, with Tigh, with whoever took her fancy.  She never showed this face to those she valued, to friends, to crew.  Only sometimes there were voyages like this one, when her mood was black.  It was a common disease, in the Fleet, in the sealed worlds of ships without discharge, among those in absolute power.  "Do you care?" she asked; he did not, and that was, maybe, his survival.

Australia remained, her troops visibly on duty on the dockside, the last ship berthed in quarantine.  On the dock, the lights were still at bright noon, over lines which moved only slowly, under the presence of the guns.