Contents: Back Cover - Synopsis - Questions - Analysis - Notes - Author
Written by Al Sarrantonio
Release date: April 21, 1997
ISBN: 0-440-22351-2 (US)
ISBN: 0-7522-2344-5 (UK)
A band of Narns take Londo hostage, determined to exchange him for G'Kar who is imprisoned in Centauri Prime.
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G'Kar, once the Narn ambassador to Babylon 5, is a warrior's warrior. Now, with his homeworld enslaved by the Centauri, he is a prisoner on his enemy's planet. Despite the chains that bind him, he keeps the one freedom that fate allows - to choose to live, or die, with courage. But a secret alliance with his nemesis, the Centauri Londo, will test his strength to the limit.
The agreement is simple: G'Kar will help kill the mad emperor Cartagia. In exchange, Londo will end the Centauri rule of the Narn world. No one foresees a deadly complication - a band of fierce Narns, determined to rescue G'Kar, takes Londo hostage. Suddenly, Londo's life and the liberation of the Narn homeworld rest on a razor's edge. It will take a hero to convince the Narns that G'Kar must stay in prison... to rescue Londo... to help the Narns escape. It will take... Vir? With all their hopes pinned on Londo's meek, nervous assistant, Londo a G'Kar have something else in common... a snowball's chance in hell.
The book opens with G'Kar doing conversions from human light-years to Narn light-years. He is being tortured in front of Cartagia, and is using this distraction to keep himself from screaming. The spectacle soon bores the Emperor, and he orders G'Kar taken back his cell.
Elsewhere in Centauri Prime, five newly arrived Narn miner-slaves escape from the rest of the group and go into hiding. Led by L'Kan, they are a band of Narn soldiers sworn to the task of freeing G'Kar. They go quickly into hiding in the tunnels below the capital to make their plans.
Vir tells Londo that G'Kar needs to speak to him. After arranging for some privacy, Londo enters the cell. G'Kar has learned of the attempt to rescue him, and tells Londo that it must fail for the good of Narn. Londo is slightly surprised to see that G'Kar is willing to sacrifice his people, but G'Kar interrupts to put a condition: the five Narn must not be harmed. If they are, he will renege on their deal to kill Cartagia and free Narn. While G'Kar is willing to sacrifice himself for his people, he will not sacrifice others for his sake.
Meanwhile in Babylon 5, Sheridan has a meeting with Ivanova and Garibaldi. He knows about G'Kar's imprisonment, and is trying to figure out if there is something they can do to help. They have tried to get Londo back on the station for a face-to-face but he has refused. Even Garibaldi seems out of ideas. Later, Garibaldi tells the Captain that he has learned of the mission to free G'Kar, but that there is nothing he can do to help: the five soldiers are very good, but they are on their own while they are on Centauri Prime.
Vir receives a surprise visit that night in his quarters from his bride-to-be, Lyndisty (see Sic Transit Vir). She agrees it isn't proper, but neither is Vir's silence or failure to contact her at his arrival to Centauri Prime. She isn't there to do anything improper, but rather to inform him that her parents are throwing a party in Vir's honor. Vir is trying to find a way to say no when she kisses him. Confused and not thinking clearly, he accepts the invitation. He is still torn between the physical attraction he feels for Lyndisty and his horror at her past actions and attitudes towards Narns. Also, it is very likely that Lyndisty's family will use the party to officially announce the engagement and the wedding date.
Sheridan is having a nightmare. He is standing alone in the blasted streets of the Narn homeworld. Suddenly behind him G'Kar appears and tells him "Yes, Captain, I have been standing behind you all along-" He awakes with a start, knowing what to do. G'Kar has always stood behind him, helping him even when they broke away from Earth. He calls Delenn and the command staff to his office and lets them know he has decided to help G'Kar directly. They cannot do an assault on Centauri Prime - that would be a declaration of war, and they have enough enemies with the Vorlons and the Shadows already. Instead, they will try a covert operation. The Narn may fail, or they may be able to use their help in freeing G'Kar. Sheridan and Delenn must stay on the station because of rumors that the Shadows and Vorlons are stirring up again. Franklin, Garibaldi and Ivanova volunteer to go. They disguise themselves as Centauri, and posing as jewelers, they travel to Centauri Prime. Ivanova and Sheridan decide not to try contacting Vir, since it will put him in too much danger.
Meanwhile, L'Kan and his four soldiers sneak into the Imperial Palace. They scouted it in the morning (nobody pays attention to a bunch of Narns, provided they are carrying buckets and mops), and located the cell where G'Kar is being held. The Centauri are over-confident, and both the grounds and the cell are only lightly guarded. The only thing that is being carefully guarded in Centauri Prime is the person of Emperor Cartagia. But when they arrive at the cell it is empty. Londo arranged to have G'Kar moved to foil the rescue attempt. They escape back to their hiding place in the tunnels, but three guards loyal to Londo are waiting for them. Since they have strict orders not to harm the Narn, the latter make short work of them. Their hiding place discovered, the Narn must change their plan. They locate a different section of the tunnels to use as a base.
Back in G'Kar's cell, Londo tells him that the Narn tried to rescue him, and have killed Centauri. He can no longer guarantee their safety. If he tries to protect them, the Emperor will know something is amiss. G'Kar must break his word, and allow them to take the fall for these murders. Otherwise, all will be lost in any case. G'Kar agrees reluctantly.
Garibaldi, Franklin and Ivanova have, in the meantime, been selling precious stones confiscated at Babylon 5; they were due to be shipped back to Earth before the station seceded from the Earth Alliance. They are selling them very cheap, which soon catches the attention of a minister from the Royal Court who arranges for an audience with the Emperor. They use the audience to scout the grounds, and they promise to come back the day after with more and better stones. Cartagia, however, is suspicious. These traders are too good to be true, so he orders his minister to look into their backgrounds.
In the station, Sheridan is restless. Things are back under control, and he is sorry he didn't get to go on the mission to rescue G'Kar. He decides to take a break, or as close to one as he can get. He and Delenn will pretend to be secret agents inside the station. There is a toy-smuggling operation running in Babylon 5, shipping alien toys to Mars. It is no big deal, so Security hasn't looked into it. Sheridan decides to go undercover and try to find the smugglers, and so participate in his own brand of cloak-and-dagger. Delenn finds the idea mildly amusing and agrees to go with him.
And back in Centauri Prime, L'Kan puts his plan in motion. They kidnap Londo from his quarters and take him to their new hiding place. They contact Vir with their demands: a simple exchange, Londo for G'Kar. To further complicate matters, the date they give for the exchange coincides with the date of the party Lyndisty's parents are giving in Vir's honor. Both Londo and Vir try to explain to the Narns that G'Kar cannot be freed, and that G'Kar's imprisonment is the only hope they have of a free Narn. Of course, L'Kan does not believe either of them. Vir realizes that it is up to him to free Londo and make the Narns see reason. At least, he muses, if he fails and dies, he won't have to go to Lyndisty's party, and he won't have to get married.
The minister has looked into the personas adopted by Garibaldi, Ivanova and Franklin. He discovered they didn't have any of the necessary permits or papers to sell gemstones in Centauri Prime. He approaches them with this information, and hints that a bribe of some of the better stones might make him forget it. They pay him off and enter the Royal Palace once again. They find G'Kar, and manage to free him and get him out of the Palace, despite G'Kar's protests.
Meanwhile, back in Babylon 5, Sheridan and Delenn are playing at being spies. They find the trail of the toy-smugglers, and while Sheridan follows a little boy to find out how they are getting the toys off the station, Delenn discovers that the toys are being used to hide weapon components and explosives. Sheridan is spotted by one of the smugglers, who knocks him out. Delenn discovers this, but as she is about to go inform security of Sheridan's location, she too is captured. The captors do not believe her when she says she is Ambassador Delenn, and the man is Captain Sheridan. The smugglers decide the spies have to be killed.
L'Kan and the Narns have heard that G'Kar has escaped. They don't know who is holding him, or for what purpose. But if they can get him without exchanging him for Londo, then they will gladly kill Londo. Meanwhile, Garibaldi, Ivanova and Franklin are astounded to hear G'Kar tell them that they must return him to his cell. Franklin examines him carefully to make sure he hasn't been drugged or altered, which he has not. G'Kar tells them that Vir informed him of the kidnapping of Londo. G'Kar also tells them that he must be returned to his cell, and that Londo must be freed. If they can help with that, and if they can help the Narn soldiers get off the planet, that will be all the help he needs. Garibaldi still doesn't understand what is going on, but agrees. They go to the Royal Palace, and leave G'Kar in the care of the guards at the Gate, before running away in search of Mollari.
Meanwhile, Vir has hired someone to locate the Narns. He decides to go tell Lyndisty he will not be at the party, and to say goodbye to her. At the door, out of earshot of her father and the guests, he decides that since he is going to die anyway, he will tell her that it would have been very difficult to marry her in any case. He is still very disturbed by her and her family's actions in Narn, and he doesn't know if will ever be able to get past it. Lyndisty is heartbroken, and Vir leaves to go to the Narn's hideout.
Garibaldi, Ivanova and Franklin beat him to the Narn hideout. Unfortunately, the Narns only know them as the Centauri who freed G'Kar, only to deliver him again to the hands of the mad emperor. Although L'Kan is intrigued that they would use the same lies that Londo and Vir tried on them, he is nonetheless in no mood for them. After G'Kar is freed, he will execute Londo and the three accomplices.
Back in Babylon 5, Sheridan and Delenn have been placed inside a cargo container full of the smuggled toys. The container is airtight and about to be loaded to a freighter destined for Mars. As the container is being loaded, the air begins to run out. Among the toys are some crystal balls, which Sheridan begins to break, releasing the air and oxygen trapped inside. While he does this, Delenn finally tells him about the smuggled weapons inside the toys. Finding some components in the balls, and looking through the rest of the cargo, he finds enough components to build a crude bomb. He sets it off, and blows the container open. When the smugglers come from the front of the freighter to investigate, they are overpowered by Delenn and Sheridan, who then call back to an anxious Zach to tell him where they are. The freighter is towed back to the station, and the smugglers are arrested. Sheridan arranges for a ship to land on Centauri Prime to pick up Garibaldi and company, with a cover story of a diplomatic mission from Babylon 5 in case they are questioned.
Vir follows the map he got from his detective and finds the hideout of the Narn, who have meanwhile gone to the arranged meeting place. Vir is surprised to find Garibaldi and company there. After being told what they are doing there, he mentions that Franklin missed some details when he made the disguises. Before he can continue, Londo suggests they leave the hideout. Vir cannot find the map at first, and after running around for a bit they end up back in the hideout, just as the five Narn led by L'Kan are returning from their unsuccessful rendezvous. Vir attempts once again to explain the situation to them, but L'Kan will have none of it. They failed to get G'Kar out, but at least they will get to kill two Centauri and three meddling humans. L'Kan still doesn't understand what Garibaldi and company are doing there, or why they sold G'Kar back, or why they are telling him these stories about G'Kar wanting to stay in prison. But it does not matter. He will grant them quick deaths, all except Londo.
In a final attempt to save Londo and G'Kar's plans, Vir offers his life in exchange for the other four's. Londo must live, if the Narn homeworld is to be saved. L'Kan is puzzled, and after a moment's thought he takes out his ka'toc and asks Vir if he has any regrets. Londo yells to Vir not to do it, but Vir turns to L'Kan and tells him L'Kan must do what he must. The blade comes down...
... and stops just short of the neck. He nicks Vir's chin, drawing a tiny drop of blood, and then sheaths the sword. Vir asks why is he still alive. L'Kan tells him it is because of his honor, and because what he said must be true. No other Centauri would sacrifice himself for another. Until Vir was truly willing to die, L'Kan could not believe him. But the inescapable truth is that the cause Vir spoke of must truly be greater than his own life. He regrets being unable to cut Mollari's throat, but he understands and believes now that Londo must be freed, and G'Kar must remain in prison. Garibaldi offers to take the Narns with them. They can pretend they are his slaves while they get to their own rendezvous point. Londo offers them free passage off Centauri Prime. L'Kan tells Londo that if they ever meet again, he will kill him. Just as they are leaving, L'Kan puts his arm around Vir and asks him if he is sure he is not part Narn.
Once back in the station, Sheridan has a meeting with Garibaldi, Ivanova, Franklin and Delenn. He reminds them that their recent escapades, for obvious reasons, must be kept a secret. The mission never happened, and in fact this last meeting never happened.
Back in Centauri Prime, Cartagia is once again torturing G'Kar. G'Kar concentrates on one thought: the Narn homeworld, to deaden the pain. Cartagia expresses his amazement that even a Narn could take so much pain. And in his room, Vir is dreaming about Lyndisty. She just heard what he did, how he saved Londo's life. She says both her and her parents were confused by Vir's actions the night of the gala, but it is all clear now. Vir is a hero, and Lyndisty's parents have now a higher regard for him than ever before. And that's why they've rescheduled the gala.
Just as he awakes with a shout, covered in cold sweat, the curtains rustle, and a dark form steppes out from behind them... Lyndisty.
Anyway...as I said, it's okay. But for my money, the Anna Sheridan and Jeffrey Sinclair books are the two real gems of this batch.