Expiration Date

by Jude
Written for Ginkage on the occasion of Winter Solstice, 2007

In her time, Ivanova had seen many things come onto her station: she had to admit that this one almost took the cake.

"All right," she said. "So why didn't you call Garibaldi?"

"The chief decided to personally check out that quarantined agricultural ship," Zack said, looking at her with his usual long-suffering expression. "When I called him, he said he was up to his ass in little furry things and I'd better call you."

"Right." She exhaled and looked at him expectantly.

"This gentleman," Zack said, gesturing over his shoulder, "says that he's wearing limb prosthetics. But our scans show metal with no moving parts, electronics, or power source."

Ivanova inspected the gentleman in question. He was of medium height, with fading blond hair pulled back in a braid. Quite good looking, if one could ignore the disconcertingly golden eyes. He was wearing a long brown coat with a hood, buff shirt with an upright collar, brown waistcoat, and brown trousers underneath, with black gloves. There was a silver pocket watch chain across the front of his waistcoat. By his side a tall, gangly redheaded boy stared around with wide country-bumpkin eyes. If the man's outfit looked like he'd just stepped out of a historical video program, the boy's looked simply bizarre. The most glaring part of his wardrobe appeared to be a shapeless purple sweater of a tone calculated for maximum clash with his bright orange hair. Ivanova did not want to think about where his trousers had been.

"And the problem is...?" Ivanova prodded.

"Hidden weapons? Explosives?" Zack suggested in an undertone, handing her the information tablet. "Also, their identification information is weird."

She scanned the tablet, scrolling through the basic information. Edward Elric, age 48, occupation: librarian. Ronald Weasley, age 20, occupation: assistant librarian. Never been off Earth previous to leaving for Babylon 5. Their histories prior to that were oddly clean: no employment history for Elric except some school in England, nothing at all for Weasley except having attended and graduated from the same school.

Elric gave her an impatient little smile. "Is there something the matter, Commander?" She identified his accent as... German, yes, German, she was pretty certain.

"Well, Mr. Elric," she said with a perplexed frown, "our first concern is your prosthetic limbs."

"Ah," he said, rubbing his hands together in a thoughtful way. Then he peeled his right glove off, displaying his silvery metal hand. He flexed the hand. "As you can see, quite functional. I'm a bit of an inventor, you see."

Zack stared at the moving hand. "But there aren't any moving parts!"

Mr. Elric looked at him and raised an eyebrow smugly, opening and closing the hand again.

Weasley nudged Elric's elbow, still staring above and around him. "Professor," he whispered without apparently noticing the Babylon 5 staff, "are you sure this place won't fall down?"

Elric glared over his shoulder at Weasley and said, "Yes, just as certain as I was about the ship. Be quiet!"

"I see," Ivanova said, pretending not to have heard the exchange. "Also, your records in our system appear to be rather... odd."

"May I see?" asked Elric, turning his disturbing golden gaze on her.

She extended the information tablet, and he rubbed his hands together again before taking it. He scanned down the lines of data, but didn't touch any other part of the thing. "Ah, I see. You expect more detail on normal citizens, I suppose. I have been rather a hermit, I'm afraid." He handed it back.

When she glanced down at it, she noticed an unobtrusive symbol in the lower left corner of Elric's record. She couldn't recall that she'd seen it there before, but he certainly hadn't done anything to the tablet. She tapped it, entered her own access code, and received a precis of Elric's top-secret military research career.

"I see," she said, flushing the tablet's cache and rebooting it. "Well, I'd like to have a chat with you and your associate, Mr. Elric, in my office. Now?"

"I understand," Elric said, the impatient smile returning.

"I'll take them from here, Zack," Ivanova said, handing his tablet back. "You're getting a queue."

Zack nodded and sighed. "I wish I'd taken the ag ship inspection."

Ivanova gave him a sympathetic look, then said, "Mr. Elric, Mr. Weasley, if you would please come with me?" Weasley, she thought as she led the way. What a horrible name. I would've changed it in a moment. To something more dignified, like Butt.

Back at Ivanova's office, Mr. Elric waited until she'd sat down before seating himself. Mr. Weasley was, however, still gawking and required a sharp rap to the knee from Mr. Elric before he folded himself into one of the chairs and paid attention to Ivanova.

"Mr. Elric," Ivanova began.

"Yes, Commander?" he responded.

"According to the information that wasn't there before you touched the tablet," she said, steepling her fingers, "you did some serious military research back on Earth."

"Yes, Commander," he said serenely.

"How did you manage to get off Earth, then?" she inquired. "I can't imagine Clark's government letting you go of their own accord. And according to your information, you came straight here from Earth, with no stopovers on, say, Mars."

He smiled, and the smugness was back. "I have many friends, Commander."

"It's always nice to have friends, Mr. Elric," she said. "Friends make the world go 'round. The question is whether your friends are our friends as well."

For the first time, Elric looked slightly flustered. "I assure you, Commander, I bear no ill will toward anyone on this station."

Ivanova gave him a jaded look. "Then you won't mind if we bring in a telepath to scan you and your associate?"

Weasley reacted almost violently, standing up so abruptly that he sent the chair over backwards. He was holding a short, thin stick aggressively in one hand. "T-t-t-telepath? Like Legilimency?? Professor, we can't...!"

Elric was on his feet in an instant, reaching up to seize Weasley by the ear. "Sit down, you fool."

They seated themselves again, Weasley rubbing his ear and glaring at Elric. He tucked the stick into his sleeve.

Elric turned a polite smile on Ivanova. "As you can see, members of our religion have a deep-seated aversion to mental invasion."

"Your religion," Ivanova said, her voice flat.

"Indeed," Elric said, maintaining his smile.

After a long moment, Ivanova sighed. "Well, I can't fault you for having a problem with it. How are we going to resolve this, then, Mr. Elric? I suspect you of being a poorly-concealed spy or terror operative, and as such, I cannot countenance you on this station."

Elric looked disconcerted and actually exchanged a look with Weasley. Elric frowned and asked, carefully, "Babylon 5 is not an Earth military establishment?"

Ivanova's eyebrows raised slightly. "We were. We've declared independence."

Elric exhaled. "I see."

"So, I gather you weren't seeking, oh, asylum, Mr. Elric?" Ivanova inquired, leaning over her folded hands.

"Er, of course we were," Elric said with a broad, hopeful grimace.

"Of course," Ivanova repeated with a smile.

"We were?" Weasley said, and got his foot stomped for his trouble.

There was a brief, frozen silence.

"Why are you here, Mr. Elric?" Ivanova inquired, pinching the bridge of her nose.

"Asylum," Elric said determinedly.

Ivanova turned her head abruptly. "Why are you here, Mr. Weasley?" she snapped out.

"Technomages," Weasley responded promptly, then yelped as his abused foot took another hit.

"That was sneaky," Elric said, a bit aggrieved.

Ivanova just turned and looked at him.

Elric shook his head and sighed. "All right, yes, we're here looking for Technomages."

"What for?" Ivanova asked.

Elric looked at her for a moment, chewing his lower lip. Finally, he said, "We're lost in time."

Ivanova's eyebrows rose again. "In time."

"Yes," Elric said, running his artificial hand through his hair. "We're from the twentieth century, you see."

"It was a terrible mistake," Weasley said hurriedly.

"I knew I should've taken on the girl as my assistant," Elric said darkly. "Or even the kid with the scar."

"And you came here, hoping the Technomages could help you," Ivanova said.

"Well, it's not like we expect to be able to slingshot around the sun and fly back in time!" Elric snapped.

"Of course not," Ivanova said dryly.

"So now that you've extracted this information from us," Elric said, irritated, "you'll let us onto your station, yes?"

"Do you have some form of proof that you hail from the twentieth century?" Ivanova asked sweetly.

Elric glowered at Weasley, who patted down his pockets and peered into a battered, mostly-empty wallet. "I don't have anything but..." Weasley said helplessly.

"There's no help for it," Elric said, with a look ceilingward.

Weasley extracted a small, square packet and, his face beet-red, he set it on Ivanova's desk.

Ivanova picked it up curiously.

"Please note the expiration date," Elric said with a long-suffering sigh.

Ivanova squinted. "Seven thirty-one ninety-nine?" she read. Then she looked more closely at the label. "'Ribbed for her pleasure'?"

Weasley shrank down in his chair, blushing furiously.

Elric continued to gaze upward.

Ivanova repressed an undignified snicker. "Yes, this looks like an antique," she said, dangling it from a corner of the packaging.

"Can we please go now, Commander?" Elric said, holding his head in his hands.

She handed the packet back to Weasley, who tucked it into his wallet as if it burned him. "If you can't contact the Technomages, what will you do?" Ivanova asked, even though it wasn't strictly within her purview to know.

Elric shrugged. "I'll improvise. I've been in a similar situation before." He chewed on his lip again. "I expect my brother is looking for me, anyway."

Ivanova sighed. "All right, I'll approve your arrival on the station. But we'll be keeping an eye on you two, Mr. Elric. Please don't prove me wrong. You wouldn't like me when I'm wrong."

Elric stood and laughed. "I think we're very much alike, Commander."

Weasley couldn't even look at her as the pair departed. Ivanova put her head down on her desk and laughed.