Seventy-five human light-years.
When G'Kar thought of it in those terms, as years made of pure light, it somehow didn't seem so far. It seemed...almost elegant.
But still depressing.
Seventy-five human light-years.
The distance from Babylon 5 to the despised planet Centauri Prime.
And how far was Narn from Babylon 5?
G'Kar knew this intimately: a little over 10 Narn light-years, which equaled...yes, 12.2 human light-years.
He distracted himself with other problems: the calculation of distance in Narn light-years from Babylon 5 to Earth, from Earth to Minbar, from Minbar to Narn...
And then there was another thought that distracted him:
How far was it in light-years from Narn to Centauri Prime?
G'Kar found himself gritting his teeth.
Not at the mathematics, which involved simple calculations and conversions that the former Narn ambassador to Babylon 5 knew all too well.
The problem of the distance between Narn and Centauri Prime was the easiest of all to answer, because the answer involved no mathematics at all.
In fact, G'Kar was able to calculate it now, as he gritted his teeth in pain as the latest lash of the whip (a conventional one, the "electro-whip" being reserved for "special" occasions) held by one of Centauri Emperor Cartagia's pain technicians bit into his back, as the evil emperor himself sat looking at G'Kar with fading amusement from a resplendent red throne.
As the emperor let out a full-fledged yawn, not bothering to cover his mouth, the whip cracked once again, driving hot pain into G'Kar's raw back and making him try even harder to take his mind from the agony by thinking of mathematics problems.
How far was it from Narn to Centauri Prime?
Answer: The distance of hatred.* * *
In the torture room, Emperor Cartagia was bored.
Stifling yet another yawn, he waved his hand at the pain technician and the lashing of the Narn G'Kar immediately stopped. The proud savage tried to show no emotion, keeping his eyes fixed on the emperor, but Cartagia noted a slight relaxation in his frame, which momentarily lifted the emperor's boredom. He made a slight motion with one finger, hoping G'Kar hadn't seen, and the torturer immediately cracked his whip once more, making the Narn nearly cry out in pain.
So he hadn't expected it!
But now the Narn stood proud once more, needing no pillory post, merely shackled, refusing to collapse after a solid hour of conventional lashing, and Emperor Cartagia felt boredom crawl into him to stay.
Not bothering to stifle his biggest yawn yet, he waved the prisoner away.
"Take him back to his cell--and don't feed him today," the emperor said, thinking perhaps to drop by later to see how the Narn was faring.
If he wasn't still bored.
As the pain technician bowed and backed away, two imperial guards immediately flanked the former Narn ambassador to Babylon 5, and led him away.
He wouldn't allow himself to be dragged, even with the whipping he had sustained.
Catching sight of the blood lines on the Narn's back, the emperor was suddenly shaken out of his boredom.
He thought of calling the guards back--perhaps even rising from his throne to administer a lashing to the Narn himself.
He began to rise--but then another yawn rose into his throat and he dropped back into the throne.
"More wine!" he cried, as a half-dozen retainers scrambled for flagons to attend to him.
The latest yawn was replaced by a chuckle. He thought of his uncle, the late Emperor Turhan, who had always seemed so stern in the job. Why, the old fool had even, on occasion, removed his wig and conducted business in front of others without his hair!
As if he didn't care about what others thought of him, or the trappings of his exalted position!
As his glass was filled by a lackey, the emperor brushed a hand over his own beautiful and stylishly short (he knew it was stylish because he had come up with the idea himself) fringe of hair.
Why, this was power!
And what good was power without...amusement!
He brought the wine to his lips, tasted, then drank it down.
"Bring me...amusement!" he cried.
And waited for the next act in his daily play. * * *
A slave is not always a slave.
Five Narns, newly arrived slaves from their mother planet, were led with the ninety others from their slave ship through city streets unfamiliar to them. The manifest that had accompanied them said that all of them, the full ninety-five, were accomplished tunnel workers, good at laying water and sewer lines, but this was only true for ninety of them.
The special five were good at other things.
For a while, the ninety-five stayed tightly together, herded like cattle through unknown streets under light from a strange sun. Some were spat upon by passing Centauri and crude jokes were directed their way. At one point, one of the five who were not in truth tunnel workers was hit with something thrown from a building, which hit his cheek. He did not flinch, and the object did not cut the skin.
The slaves' overseers, looking forward to rest and relaxation before returning to Narn for another shipment of slaves, did their duty just before arrival at the tunnel site where the slaves were to be turned over, but were lax in their count; they counted ninety-six and, fed up with the exercise, decided to wait until after lunch for a second count; after all, one of them laughed, if it turned out there was an extra
slave how could they get into trouble?
But when the second count was made an hour later, it was found that there were only ninety slaves, and that five were missing--five whose names somehow turned out to be impossible to trace...* * *
So this was Centauri Prime.
L'Kan was not impressed, and, he knew, neither were his companions. Compared to what the Narn homeworld had been before the Centauri had first come, the lush forested beauty of a world that was only a memory now, this world was...decadent.
As he walked through the streets in his ragged slave's robe, his tall, burly build making his head stand out over his fellows, he took in the world of Centauri Prime. The overstated architecture, the rich adornments, the flowing robes and other overdone styles of dress, the flaunting of abundance--all decadent.
L'Kan imagined that it had always been this way.
There was not, however, much time for sight-seeing. Five Narns unattended by a Centauri slave master would quickly be noticed and reported.
It was time for them to make themselves...disappear.
For they had a mission to accomplish. * * *
Sometimes, even Londo Mollari got tired of complications.
Life, of course, was complications; Londo knew that. There were the complications of rank, and status, and power. And there were the complications of dress, and presentation, and cunning. And there were social complications, of marriage (Londo made a face, thinking of his three wives, Timov, Daggair, and Mariel, whom he referred to as "Famine, Pestilence, and Death"). And there were complications that all of these complications seemed to create.
And then there were the complications that seemed to wait on his breakfast plate each morning: the new complications.
Like today's, for instance.
"Drinking your breakfast today?" Vir said, not hiding his disapproval. Londo's protege never failed to annoy him, yet Londo never failed to feel a certain sense of...comfort, almost, when the younger man was around. He had no idea if his instincts were truly paternal--or if Vir's underlying honesty and decency were merely useful on occasion.
Probably the latter.
With a sprinkle of the former.
"Yes, Vir," Londo said, raising his glass in a sarcastic toast to the younger man, "I am
drinking my breakfast. And I may drink my lunch and dinner also--with a few snacks in between."
Vir fairly clucked. "You need all your wits about you, Londo. You know it may cloud your judgment--"
"My judgment is fine with or without imbibing!" Londo remarked testily. "And I do not need you to lecture me!"
Vir gave a disapproving frown. "It's just that--"
"Stop!" Londo pushed his glass aside, noting with some satisfaction that it was nearly empty anyway. "There, I will not drink any more of it. Does that make you happy?"
Vir, letting his frown soften a bit, responded, "Yes."
"Good. Then now we can get down to business. What is it that is so important?"
Rubbing his hands nervously, Vir said, "G'Kar needs to see you in his cell. Immediately. And alone. I've taken the liberty of checking his cell for listening or recording devices, and made sure guards loyal to you will be placed around it when you are there."
"And what is so important that I should deign to visit G'Kar in his cell?" Londo asked.
"He said it was very important. That..."
Vir looked very worried, which was always a clue that further complications were about to emerge. "He said your plan might be in jeopardy."