Characters: Vir Cotto, Alwyn
Word Count: 1,432
Betaed by: hobsonphile
Summary: “Surely you’ve heard enough stories of glorious triumphs to recognize the pattern. And to know of the horrors you don’t see on the surface.” Vir on Minbar, before Sic Transit Vir.
“H-hello?” Vir Cotto turned slowly, scanning the shadows for any hint of movement. “Is ..” He stopped and swallowed, remembering Londo’s lectures on proper presentation and confidence. “Is anyone there?” he asked, holding his voice steady. Well, at least, steadier than it had been. But no one answered.
He was inside, he thought, though where he was or how he’d gotten there he had no idea. But the ground under his feet felt flat and smooth, and the shadows looked rather too straight and regular to be found in nature. Even here on Minbar, with its crystal austerity so different from the lushness of Centauri Prime, nature wasn’t quite that perfect.
Vir started to relax a little and began the simplest of the breathing exercises he’d picked up since being posted to Minbar. It helped calm him a lot more than he’d originally thought possible, and he wondered why his own people didn’t try such things. Of course, the Centauri didn’t really value things like calmness and serenity, so maybe that … he was avoiding things again. If Londo (or, really, anyone else, but he was used to Londo after being his aide for two years), if Londo was here he would have yelled at him to shut up and focus on the situation by now.
He heard a rustle behind him and whirled to face it. “Hello?”
“Hello,” said a voice. He couldn’t see anyone, but maybe—was that movement? The swish of a robe, maybe?
“Who’s there? Who are you?” he asked.
“Who are you?” the voice replied, mocking.
“I’m Vir. Cotto. The, uh, the Centauri liaison to Minbar? Where are we?”
A bright light appeared before his face, and he winced—it wasn’t that bright, but his eyes had grown accustomed to darkness. He couldn’t see his companion—was the other man behind the light?—but he could see the room, now. It was an odd mixture of angles and curves, harsh and heavy and dominated by bony protrubances, with just enough curves to prevent it from being entirely ugly. All of it was the same dull gray. There were large, industrial machines all around, and among them a variety of tools and carts, all standing idle. “Is this some kind of factory?” he guessed.
“Of a sort, Vir Cotto. It is an ore processing facility, just waiting for its first shipment. Shall we see from whence its raw materials will come?”
The world around him … changed. They were outside, in a huge pit, smog so thick Vir could hardly breathe. Workers covered in grime and sweat and clothed in rags toiled in the dirt, using chemicals to strip away soil to reach the minerals buried beneath. At first glance he thought they were Centauri so poor they couldn’t even maintain a proper crest, or maybe Humans. Then he saw their faces weren’t quite right for either species; he’d never seen a species with ridges on their nose like that before. Above the pit, soldiers stood, reptilian, armored, armed. He felt very conspicuous in his rich Centauri court garb, but no one seemed to notice him.
“Surely you’ve heard enough stories of glorious triumphs to recognize the pattern. And to know of the horrors you don’t see on the surface.” The voice came from behind him.
Vir whirled to face the man who’d brought him here. He was tall, middle-aged, bald, human-looking, dressed in a style Vir had seen once before. “Are you a technomage?” An arched brow was his only answer. Well, that and an expansive gesture at the scene surrounding them.
Mindful of Londo’s experience with technomages, he did as he was told. “Slave labor?” he guessed. No answer was forthcoming. “Are the soldiers—did they conquer this place, whatever it is?”
“Top marks. Shall we see more?”
The scene changed once again. This time, they were in a barracks, filled to the brim with people of all ages huddling together for comfort and warmth. They were workers from the mine, Vir guessed. There were some families, some couples, lots of single men. He grew queasy thinking about it.
“Cardassians coming!” The words were hissed around the room, and people flurried into action. Children were squirreled away under bunks, women moved back, and men moved forward to shield them as best they could. Even Vir could see it wasn’t going to be enough.
The door was flung open. The soldiers—Cardassians?—marched in, weapons ready but not aimed at anyone, an air of menace clinging to them. They shoved their way through the crowd. Occasionally, they’d grab someone and march them out. Most of the ones they grabbed were women, the prettier ones, the ones whose figures couldn’t be hidden by the shapeless rags they wore; a few were boys young enough to be pretty. One man made the mistake of protesting when they came for the woman next to him; even in these surroundings, Vir was struck by her beauty. The Cardassian shot her champion. Vir started forward, not sure what he could do, but was brought up short by the technomage.
“No,” the technomage said, contempt in his voice. “You can’t help them. But you want to. Because of course, they look like you.”
“Where are they taking them?” he asked.
“You’re not that naïve. Nor that stupid. No matter how much you may try to be.”
“What do you want?” Vir shouted, anger and shame overriding his fear. “Why did you bring me here, whoever you are? There’s nothing I can do about this. I don’t even know where we are! I don’t even know your name.”
“My name is Alwyn. Once again, you ask entirely the wrong question, Vir Cotto!” The technomage was abruptly in front of him, mere inches from his face. “Who are you? What do you want? And why the hell are you here?”
“I don’t know!” Vir said. “That’s why I was asking you.”
“The universe doesn’t go around answering questions like that for us, Vir Cotto, or if it does the answers are very seldom the correct ones. We have to do that ourselves. But you, you don’t even bother to ask the questions. Not the right ones.”
“What—” Vir cut himself off. Judging by the look on the technomage’s face, more questions wouldn’t be a good idea right now. “I can’t do anything for these people. I’ve never seen their species before—either species. I would have no idea where to begin.”
They were back in the ore processing center, but this time it was filled with smoke and slaves, machines glowing hotly in the dimness. The few guards were mostly stationed at the door, scrutinizing the passes of those few entering or leaving. Vir watched the slaves toil, clenching his fists, stomach twisting at the hopelessness in their eyes.
“It isn’t just that they look a little bit like Centauri,” Vir said, voice as steady as he could make it. “Nobody deserves this, no matter what they look like or what species they are.”
“You make very pretty speeches.” The technomage stalked around him, ignoring their surroundings. “Your moral outrage shows loud and clear on your face. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
“I can’t do anything for the Narns, either!” Vir burst out. “I’m just one man. A minor functionary. I’m a joke, buried on a planet my people don’t care about. You want to know who I am, that’s who! Nobody listens to me. Because I’m nobody. I’m a nobody on the other side of civilized space from the place where the wrongs are happening.”
“Who are you?” The technomage came to a stop directly in front of him. “You are a Centauri nobleman. A bureaucrat, a functionary, a liaison. A man who’s stood at a crossroads where hundreds of species met, learned more from them and of them than you’ve ever admitted to anyone, even yourself. You have power, Vir Cotto. You’re just afraid to use it.”
The people and light vanished, along with the heat and the stench of unwashed bodies. They were back where they started. “And you still won’t ask the question: who are you? What do you want? Why are you here?”
“Do you just like the darkness a lot?” Vir asked testily. “Me, I like being able to see who I’m talking with.”
“The world is a dark place, Vir Cotto.” The words seemed to come from all around him. “If you want light—” a floating source of light blinked into existence before him; Alwyn was nowhere to be seen “—be the light.”
Vir woke up.
I got the idea for this from the Multiverse 2007 request list. It's got three hundred requests, all of them crossovers between science fiction shows that take place in space. Some of them are cool ideas, some of them are cracktastic, but if you're looking for a prompt it's an interesting place to check out. Don't know if the site's still accepting stories--I emailed this in like it says on the FAQ, but it never got posted. I don't mind, though, this was a fun piece to write.