Z ha dum
For the past few months, the city, a rather largish harbour at the southern Bigtopian coast, had seen a somewhat increasing activity. New buidlings were build, corporations were moving in. The infrastructure had been overhauled. The streets were clean, traffic was heavy.
Someone, somewhere, was investing into this particular city.
Business was doing well. Construction was present everywhere. The banking district was bristling with activity. The IT sector, aerospace constructions, security firms, worldwide shipping, everything boomed.
Of course, culture didn't lack, either. Theatres, casinos, lots of hotels, museums. Everything was present.
The university had been overhauled, especially with regards to the training of telepaths, but every other part of science, physics, chemistry, electric and aerospace engineering, biomechanical design (Augments), astrophysics... Everything had to be state of the art.
Indeed, over the past few months, this city, this harbour had started to become something resembling a global city. A major hub for economic activity, a major place for cultural exchange. A place to visit, a place to important to miss.
And somewhere, at a not-so-remarkable place, a new, small, but neat looking corporation opened its doors.
Jason & Co.
It was an unremarkable name, and the advertisements were equally unremarkable. Yet, their content was fairly intriguing. And they were distributed worldwide.
Do you really want to spend years on earth, trying to get a place in the Aerospace Programs of your nation?
Do you really want to train for countless years to come, just to be considered 'surplus work', removed, set free, starving, having studied for nothing?
Is this frustrating? Yes? But this must not be!
Jason & Co has excellent contacts to a wide variety of space-faring civilisations, and offers you the best available training for zero fees! Guaranteed acceptance by your spacefaring employee of choice! Or, alternatively, start with your own ship for just 1% of your (Huge) future salary for ten years as payment for our services!
Join the community, NOW! We offer you a future that will lead you to the stars! The best available ships, the best available training! The day you leave our academy, you will be among the elite of spacepilots, you will be among those travelling to the borders of known space! The last adventure, WE offer you a chance to join in!
No discrimination! You may be black or white, man or woman, normal or psychic, we don't care. All we care about is the individual that is YOU! The bright future of space!
Of course, it was a rather... Cheesy advertisement. Most would simply think of a scam and disregard it. But those who would do that weren't the people this was aimed at.
For Jason & Co aimed at those whose hopes had not yet died while their abilities were lacking. Jason & Co aimed at those who would come, those who didn't have a chance, elsewhere.
And they would take them.
Inside the unremarkable building, Jason, a rather old man with white hair that looked almost decorative, waited. Soon they would come. First the Bigtopians, then the others. From the entire world.
For a moment he listened to something that would have appeared as a brief burst of static in the infrared band. Yes. I know. Don't worry. They will come, too. Just like the normals.
The cane tapped against the sidewalk as a man in black paused outside the modern, clean, back door of Jason and Co. He carried himself as if he had a similar cane for a spine, the very image of uptightness. "Always the same," he murmured, "Corruption. Immorality. Chaos," he said, looking around He picked the cane up and rapped the door several times, "I say," he said, much louder. "Is there anyone at home? I hear you are looking for pilots..."
He stepped up with an antiquated looking shoe onto the steps of the building, and narrowed his eyes. Sebastian adjusted his top hat and took the cane in his gloved hands, and waited.
Z ha dum
Manuel was one of those little 'servants' who did barely know what all of this was about.
Sure, hiring pilots for some jobs in space. Yeah, sure, he would help with the thing, clean the offices, wield a gun, look all shiny in the mixture of a uniform and a business suit he was wearing.
He wasn't the only one, naturally. However, he was very much the one cleaning the rooms down there, the ones nobody ever used.
With a reason. He wasn't sure why, but this rooms... They scared him. Sometimes. Which explained the not-at-all insignificant layer of dust covering the ground and the (few) pieces of furniture showed at random places inside the room, the stakes of documents, and the dysfunctional clock on top of a van Goth copy.
He muttered darkly as he heard the knocks and the impatient man at the backdoor. Nobody was actually supposed to use it.
Nonetheless, he opened it, his gun, a pistol, really, kept safely inside its holster. There was no point in being overly careful, and Jason would dislike being disturbed, anyway.
Besides, they were just a normal company...
"Yes?" He asked, seeing this odd person in front of him. "Back from travelling back to the 19th century, or what?"
A few stories higher, Jason was finishing yet another screening. "Yes. Yes, perfect... I'm certain you will make an excellent pilot, Mr. Jones."
"Well, thank you." Mr. Jones smiled, seemingly happy. His wish was about to come true... nevermind that 'Mr.' Jones was just seventeen. But they accepted him, and that was all he needed.
Elsewhere, something raised its head, sensing a threat.
At the Rim
The ship moved slowly, hindered by the gravity of the planet it orbited, but slowly, struggling, it freed itself, reaching for open space, reaching for the place it was meant to be.
She could be proud, piloting this particular piece of machine... No, not piloting it.
It was... Odd. There were disturbances she could feel. She tried to correct them, feelign the pulsating power of her body, wanting to cry out her merciless scream, yet, something hindered her.
This body, as srong, as magnificient as it was, was still suffering from... Imperfections.
But she was sure they would change this.
Sebastian tilted his head to one side, "Travelling forward from it my good man. We all travel forward. Some just travel faster than others. And those who travel faster go further. Now," he picked up his cane, and practically held it to the man's face as if he intended to attack him. He twirled it a little, pointing into the building beyond, and looked into the guard's eyes. "Why don't you take me," he said, "to your Master?"
There was something about the way he said it. Something odd, as though he lived in a society where that word, and the profession of domestic service, was still in popular usage. His eyes were strangely mesmerising, though he lacked anything that could truly be called telepathy, he had some strange force of will. He looked inside the room, taking note of the strange aura that seemed to seep from every surface, through one's mind.
It was not like the horrifying aura that he had felt, once or twice, before, from things, artefacts on worlds he had seen, strange monoliths bearing inscriptions in ancient languages best left unspoken, inscriptions such as 'Every light casts a Shadow' and other such, uncomfortable truths. This was subtler. The lingering touch of that same darkness, like fingerprints, was in that place.
A sane man who knew what Sebastian knew would want to run. Hide. Bury one's self far beneath the surface of the world and stay there for decades - until the impending conflagration ended. But if there was one fundamental truth of Sebastian's character, it was thus:
He was quite completely and homicidally insane.
Z ha dum
Being the rather simple-minded person he was, Manuel just shaked his head a the world of the... Person in front of him. For him, Sebastian sounded insane. The humourous kind of insanity, the one that would make an normal person giggle. The truth behind Sebastian was beyond his understanding.
"Now, first of all, old man, try to be a little more, shall we say, polite?" He answered, pushing the cane away. "I will see if my... If he has time." He turned, not really caring about the person behind him or him, Sebastian didn't seem to be a threat. Indeed, all Sebastian was was an old, somewhat senile person. In fact, manual wasn't quite certain just why he didn't simply kick him out... But there was also something about Sebastians personality that made him obey, though reluctantly so. Subconsciously, he had already submitted to Sebastian's diabolic character... Consciously, he walked up the stairs, heading for Jason.
And hidden in the shadows of the walls and corners of the building, a presence watched, intrigued as of the eventual results of this.
Sebastian followed the guard, ignoring the man's petty comments. The guard was of no consequence to him, no consequence at all. But what lurked in the darkness of the building beyond the mere physical was terrifying. The universe was a place of terror and grandeur, beyond all summation, this Sebastian understood all too well.
Z ha dum
It was a brief burst of static, a tiny piece of information, travelling the short distance between the creature and its servant, Jason. Jason just nodded as he received it. He had been quite satisfied with the results of this endeavour of his. The candidates, Bigtopians, Terrans, others, proved to be suitable, although he would have preferred a few more telepaths. His masters would need them as much as they feared them. Because they feared them.
However, right now, he had different things to do. He wasn't quite certain who his guest was, but what he radiated, what his masters had felt was something he didn't dare ignoring.
But his curiosity was stronger than his cautiousness, his sense for irony stronger than his sense for safety.
And as he had free reign over just how he intended to deal with this particular nuisance, he chose to talk.
Still, he had to be careful. Easy enough to do, positioning two guards near the door, waiting for Sebastian. And soon enough, Manuel showed up.
"I've some weirdo who wants to ta-"
"I know. Let him in." He clasped his hands in front of him, waiting. There was a chance of this person, whoever, or whatever it was, to just kill him, instantly. But he doubted it. After all, just blowing up the entire building would have been vastly easier. Theoretically at least.
"Good Day, Mr...?"
Sebastian paused inside the doors, “My name is Sebastian,” he said, bringing his cane down on the floor, standing perfectly straight, as though he had a similar cane for a spine, his antiquated coat and top hat lending him extra height and verticality, he seemed almost as if he were a statue, carved by a sculptor who liked straight lines and majestic poses.
He looked at Jason without moving his eyes, seeming to keep his gaze fixed on the other man even as he took every aspect of his person in, an uncanny mannerism. He didn’t blink, or twitch as he did so, every movement seemed controlled, planned in advance by a team of specialists and choreographed after a week’s practice.
“Who are you?” he asked.
Z ha dum
Jason was intrigued by the man's, Sebastians, posture, his whole... Way. It was certainly odd, not what the (Comparatively relaxed) Jason was used to, but still... As odd as it was, it amused him.
"Irrelevant." He answered, without hesitation, not especially interested in continuing the 'foreplay' for much longer, as amusing as it was. "It is not what you want to know, anyway. Which raises the question." Jason smiled, motioning for Sebastian to sit. "What do you want? Or did you give up on 'wanting', prefering to stay the way you are, ceasing any development, becoming a stone thrown away by those embracing evolution?"
"What I want is irrelevant!" he snapped, tensing a little and stepping forward, leaning on the walking stick, "What is Just is what is important. I am telling you to leave this place," he said, not even entertaining the notion of accepting the offer to sit, "Now. They," he pointed in the direction of the heart of the city, "are not for you..."
Z ha dum
"Oh? I guess your... Superiors have troubles remembering the more... Recent past and its rather obvious results..." Jason chuckled, equally amused and annoyed. A good portion of what Sebastian said didn't actually make sense to him, sure, but... Well, so long as Sebastian amused him, he could bear it.
Besides, his Associates were somewhat interested in Sebastians behaviour. So far, his arrogance had surprised them. As if he was actually backed with considerable force.
It was not something they had expected just yet.
"A bit too late for that." Jason continued, tossing Sebastian a few sheets of paper. "So far, we seem to be rather popular..." A mischievous grin appearing, he motioned for the guards to step a little closer. "And my... Associates are somewhat unwilling to give up this rather valuable enrollment option. So..." Jason hesitated, pouring himself some tea while casually ignoring Sebastian's presence. "So... Apart from ranting, did you have any particular message to deliver, or can we just... Dispose of you?"
"Popularity is unimportant!" he snapped, "only obedience and order matters!" He seemed to calm down a little, and restrained himself.
"I have," Sebastien said, looking Jason in the eye, with the same unhinged fanatical zeal, "A question for you instead..." He stepped forward and leaned on the cane again, pressing down on it, resulting in a slight glow from the upper portion, He let it up, and then pressed down again, arming a rather... crude, by Vorlon standards, mechanism, "How long can you hold your breath?"
Z ha dum
"They trained you well, I see..." Jason said, chuckling. "Like a good puppy. I wonder where you left your collar..." He was a little bit, just a wee little bit worried at the expressions in Sebastian's face. This was not a sane man, and, more importantly, a man who wasn't worried about himself.
Finally, he gave up on the conversation. It was pointless (Amusing, yes, but still pointless) and it was becoming more and more menacing. "Longer than you will stay in this room." With that, he motioned for the guards. "Take him away. Don't kill him just yet, though, my superiors might find him interesting..."
Just now he thought about the odd glow of the cane. "And take care of his... Walking stick. Just in case."
At which moment, like the proper little attack dog he was, Sebastien lept foward, swinging the cane like a club, or rather, like a mace. Some kind of force, accompanied by a lensing effect in the air, pushed away from the motion, in Jason's direction.
"Back!" he shouted, seeming to be in a full scale bout of insanity, pointing the cane at Jason's torso and glaring at the guards, "Back or I kill him!" Of course, he planned to kill Jason anyway, but he wasn't exactly making that too clear. It would be nice to jump out of a window and limp off after doing so, unlikely though that was.
Z ha dum
Jason shivered, although he did his best to hide this, trying to look calm, superior.
Too bad he was neither.
The guards looked uncertain, apparently waiting for Jason to order them to do... Something, alas, this was certainly not what Jason was doing. In fact, he was quite interested in escaping the situation unharmed, or at least alive.
At about this moment, an invisible exoskeleton entered the room, slowly, and quite curious with regards to how this situation would develop. Seeing as Jason was one of their choosen ones, he had to be able to deal with this kind of problem.
Of course, there was also the possibility of Sebastian realising its presence, which could, eventually, speed up the process that would lead to this situation being resolved, one way or another. But that was a risk it was willing to take.
The apparent lunatic took a shuffling step over towards Jason, evidently quite unaware of the invisible presence within the room, caught up as he was in his mission. Creeping slowly closer to Jason, he had a surprisingly familiar vision of being able to take the other’s insides… outside.
“It’s going to get very bloody in here if you don’t leave,” he snarled, his voice sounding almost feral. He continued pointing the cane at Jason and began working his way around behind the other, intent on deceiving the guards into thinking it was a lethal weapon, “Have you ever seen what happens when one blasts a person’s abdomen apart?” he asked, the cadence of his voice rising unsteadily.
He prodded Jason’s midriff just to solidify his point a little, his long face fiercely underlit by the light from the walking stick’s cap, extenuating he insane passion in his features “Because I’d take great pleasure in the privilege of demonstration!”
Z ha dum
The guards' weapons were pointed straight at Sebastian, but they didn't fire just yet... They were still waiting for orders while following even the most infinitesimal movement of their designated target.
Jason remained calm. "Leave? Even if I left... I'd just be replaced. It'd be a nuisance, certainly, but hardly a disaster... Besides-" He stopped. It was true, he didn't actually have the option of leaving... His choices were rather limited. But this was nothing he needed to say in front of the guards. And indeed... He was rather reluctant of admitting this to himself, too.
"I can't say I've had the... Pleasure... Although-" Feeling the cane in his back was decidedly unpleasant. Not my best day...
At the other hand of the room, an invisible creature observed the situation, interestedly. Now Sebastian was standing right in front of the window... Escape had become a possibility.
What remained was the question if losing Jason was actually worth getting rid of Sebastian. In the end, the two happened to be in comparable - Though not identical - positions... It was arguable if it'd make sense.
But having Sebastian succeed would be worse. Also, it seemed like Jason's intentions were rather ambiguous - He certainly hadn't done as much as the creature had expected him to do. Last but not least, there was still a fair chance for survival present.
A brief flash of information in the infrared band, a thin beam eventually reaching an implant in Jason's skull...
"I suspect that it's going to get rather bloody regardless..." A single drop of sweat appeared on Jason's forehead as he nodded in the direction of the guards. Sebastian did scare him, no doubt. But he was responsible to greater schemes than just his own well being. He didn't actually want to die, didn't want to risk dying... But he had learned, or rather, had been told that sometimes, there was no other choice but to risk it.
Then the shooting began.
It was generally held that the majority of shots fired even by professionals in a combat situation miss. Whether by luck, training, malign design, or simple weight of numbers, the security guards were just about accurate enough to shoot Sebastian in the forehead.
The assassin staggered back, unsteadily, his body acting on instructions from a brain that was no longer operational. The cane dropped to the floor from limp, nerveless hands, and its ebony length bounced once, turning over and over on its axis, rolling along the floor.
Sebastian’s corpse, with an idiotic smile, fell with it, landing sideways with a heavy ‘crump.’ Then, as if on cue, the cane exploded into flames, spontaneously increasing the temperature of the floor around it to the point where combustion began – and doing the same to the clothes and remains of its former wielder.
The flames of course, were a distraction from the real dead-man’s device, a fast acting organophosphate nerve agent, not unlike ‘VX’ something that was of course, far less sophisticated than the things the Vorlon had access to, but something that would also not go amiss in the Bigtopian environment – terrorists from the world over came there to trade outside the notice of their enemies, after all.
From nearby, the Vorlon watched, it wasn’t surprised, it had anticipated this. Unfortunately, it wasn’t confident that this operation would be permanently disrupted. While it would be easily able to render the entire city block a smoking crater, and permanently derail this particular recruitment effort, that would be against the rules…
Human deaths though, were quite, quite acceptable.
Z ha dum
For a moment, Jason was happy - With Sebastians death (More to the point, Sebstian's quick death), things seemed to have resolved nicely (Though the man's utterly insane expression scared him).
Still, he backed away as the cane bursted into flames - He knew where this man came from, and his capacities, even when dead, were not to be underestimated.
At the same time, in the shadows, another entity watched - It knew even more, knew that the flames were just a deception... But it didn't think that it'd be a good idea to keep the guards alive after what they'd just seen, and Jason had been something of a disappointment - It wasn't out to kill him, but it wouldn't exactly render assistance, either.
At about the time when it finished this thoughts, the choking began.