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The photo in question

The island of Celini had always been sparsely populated. The fishing grounds weren't that good; just enough to get by. The beaches, on the other hand, were beautiful, but the few noble houses who built their summer residences there made sure the best of them remained private. One did not want to be vulgar. Nothing ever happened on the island of Celini, with its one single town and scattered villages.

Then Emperor Cartagia gave the island to the Shadows. And the peace of Celini was gone. Days and nights were filled with their shrill, unearthly voices. There were rumours, terrible rumours. Some of the fishermen, looking for additional money to earn, volunteered to build the camp for those ships. Those of them who returned had lost their minds forever; their screams matched the ones coming from the sky. And then there were those who simply disappeared. Nobody ever found out what became of them. Bassanio Leren, the Mayor of the small town, finally took all his courage and went to the governor to ask. But the governor, usually a self-assured man with all the usual arrogance of the nobility, just looked at him, and the expression in his eyes was not pride or anger or superiority. It was fear.

"But we cannot sit by and do nothing," Bassanio told his second wife later that night. "This is not why our people have elected me to my post."

His wife, who had served as a maid in one of the summer residences a long time ago, tilted her head and replied:

"Well, if the governor cannot help us, we must try to find someone who can. Someone with more influence, someone with ties to this island."

And that was how Bassanio Leren found himself contacting Londo Mollari. House Mollari had risen in influence steadily in recent years, and he dimly recalled something about Londo Mollari visiting his grandmother, many years ago, when the old lady resided on this island. There had been a scandal of some sort, but Bassanio had been a toddler himself; he did not recall exactly what happened. He did recall young Londo insisting on sailing out with the fishermen now and then, and despite making a terrible job of it being enthusiastic enough that it did not matter.

When he finally managed to get a hold of Mollari, who was currently residing in the Royal Palace as an advisor of sorts to the Emperor, Mollari didn't let him speak two sentences before harshly telling him he was wasting his time. But later that night, Bassanio found himself contacted by Mollari, who explained he was now talking from a more secure channel.

This was not exactly reassuring, but then, the Shadows frightened Bassanio more than palace intrigues. This time, Mollari heard him out.

"My lord,"

Bassanio ended,

"this is a curse, a terrible blight that has come over our people. We must remove it."

Londo Mollari looked at him, and the cheap, old fashioned view screen Bassanio employed nonetheless managed to show him both determination and something else in Mollari's face. With the intuition that was a part of the Centauri, Bassanio knew what he could read in Mollari's dark eyes was guilt.

"We will,"

Londo Mollari declared.

Then he began to explain his plan. Within three minutes, Bassanio knew that what he was hearing was high treason, and that Mollari had just given him the means to bring down the man and his entire house, should Bassanio choose to do so. Within ten minutes, he knew that it was something far more terrible than treason. Most horrifying of all was the logic of it. The ruthless, compelling logic.

"My lord,"

Bassanio said, his voice slightly trembling,

"are you sure there is no other way?"

"I am sure," Mollari replied. "I wish there was. Great Maker, I wish that more than anything. And I will try to convince them to leave on their own. But I can tell you know they will not listen. They will laugh at me. My dear Mayor, it is the most terrible choice of all. But what is at stake is our entire people."

Bassanio thought of his life. It was not one that would ever be remembered by anyone outside of his circle of friends, but it was a good life. He was happy with his two wives and their seven children. He had risen to the office of Mayor, he had handled it in a worthy manner, he had managed to dissolve quarrels and improve trade.

Then he thought of the dark things in the sky, and Anura Henil's son, such a fine young man, who was now sitting at home, drooling like an infant, and screaming along with the ships each time.

"I am Centauri,"

he declared.

"You do not need to say anymore, Ambassador."

Ten days later, Bassanio Leren was among the seventy people who had remained on the island of Celini to deceive the Shadows. When Londo Mollari, far away in the capital, pressed the button that would destroy an entire island and every single creature on it, Shadow or Centauri, Bassanio was looking up to the sky. And for the first time in months, he was smiling.


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July 2010

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