Note: Originally, I had intended "Coffee Stirrers and Kharmic Debt" to be a one-shot, but so many people liked it and asked me to write a sequel that I decided to do one. But this time I decided to expand the scope of things a tad, in homage to Marcus' rather expansive personality, and... well, you'll just have to see for yourself.
The Grand Scheme of Things
Ivanova paused during her daily patrol through the station and glanced over her shoulder to see G'Kar making his way through the crowded Zocalo toward her.
"G'Kar, what can I do for you now?" she greeted him, nodding a polite hello while mentally bracing herself for the Narn's latest rant. Earlier today he'd cornered her in a transport tube about Mollari getting in his face about something or another (she knew better than to pay attention, it was ALWAYS something or another between those two), and at some ungodly hour this morning, she'd received a complaint from the ambassadors whose quarters were on either side of G'Kar's about a horrible noise coming from the Narn's rooms, only to discover that G'Kar was continuing his habit of singing as he worked on his book. That problem, she'd handed off to Garibaldi.
"Commander, I must insist that you take immediate action. There is simply no time to waste!" G'Kar made to take her by the arm, but Ivanova dug in her heels and glared at him.
"G'Kar, I'm all for immediate action, but what exactly am I supposed to be doing?"
"You have to do something about this! I haven't been able to get any work done on my book at all today!"
"This? This what?" The list of people Ivanova could put together about who would be bothering G'Kar was nearly as long as the station, when she heard another voice from the crowd.
"Oh, good, there you are, Commander! Um, excuse me- pardon me- sorry, I didn't mean to step on your foot- excuse- pardon- pardon- sorry-"
A moment later, Vir emerged from the crowd, looking as flustered as ever. He opened his mouth to speak, saw G'Kar standing there, closed it again, stared down at his feet, blinked twice, then resumed speaking again to Ivanova.
"I'm terribly sorry to interrupt, Commander, but I need to speak to you. It's a matter of utmost importance."
Ivanova opened her mouth to speak, but G'Kar got there first. "Well, I'm afraid you'll have to wait. I was already attempting to resolve a crisis with the good commander's help, but I'm certain that once she's assisted me, if she can summon the patience, she'll be able to help you."
"G'Kar, why don't you let me decide that?" Ivanova snapped. "Considering I haven't heard what his problem is yet, and for that matter, what YOUR problem is!"
"Ah, Commander Ivanova!"
Ambassador Mollari's gravelly tones cut across the background chatter, and Ivanova threw up her hands in dismay.
"I had sent Vir to find you some time ago about an urgent matter, but-"
"I-I-I just found her, just now, sir, but she was already talking to-" Vir began, but Londo cut him off with a dismissive wave.
"Bah, G'Kar's little problems can wait. This, however, is a matter that requires the Commander's personal attention."
"Why me?" Ivanova asked the ceiling. "All I need now is for Lennier to show up."
An instant later, however, she was mentally berating herself for taunting the universe when she heard the polite tones of Delenn's assistant coming from her left. "Commander Ivanova, I was just looking for you. Ambassador Delenn requested that I find you."
"Well, I'm afraid that-"
"She's already talking to-"
"SHUT UP!" Ivanova bellowed so loudly that for a moment, the entire Zocalo fell quiet. One glare from her, however, immediately convinced the patrons that whatever they were doing was more important than looking at her. With a loud sigh, she reached out, seized G'Kar's sleeve in one hand, Mollari's in the other, and promptly dragged both of them to the nearest corridor, with Vir and Lennier following along behind nervously.
Once they were out of the Zocalo, she let both of them go and turned to all of them with a glare.
"Now, before ANYONE else decides what REQUIRES my attention, I want to know exactly what the problem is. You each have one word to describe the problem. Then I will decide what order to handle this in. Are we clear?"
G'Kar and Mollari opened their mouths to protest, but Ivanova cut them both off. "THAT WASN'T A QUESTION!"
"Yes, Commander," G'Kar said sulkily.
"Yes, Commander," Mollari replied, looking a bit smug. But as he turned around to look for Vir, Ivanova got there first.
"Vir, that goes for you, too," she said, and the aide looked up, startled.
"Yes, so Londo doesn't get any bright idea about having you do all the talking for him."
Londo glared back over his shoulder at Ivanova, who just smirked at having accurately predicted what he'd been about to do.
"Does your restriction apply to me as well, Commander?" Lennier asked after a moment.
"Yes. Equality for all... that is, after all, part of the Babylon mission." She put her hands on her hips and gave all of them her best I-mean-business look. "So, gentlemen? In one word... let's hear about your respective crises."
"Marcus." G'Kar, Londo, Lennier, and Vir all spoke at the same time, then glanced at one another, startled.
Ivanova blinked, certain for a moment that she'd misheard all of them.
"It's Marcus," G'Kar said hurriedly. "He's been coming by my quarters at all hours of the day and night, asking if he can borrow things."
"Ours, too," Vir chimed in. "There seems to be no rhyme or reason to his visits, but it's been happening a lot."
"Indeed," Lennier agreed. "Although, when Ambassador Delenn suggested that he ask some of the others for assistance, I do not think she believed that it would come to this."
"And what's more, he never seems to understand that while we Centauri are more than willing to do business, even with a madman such as he, we do not do it for free." Mollari frowned as he uttered the last word. "Although he did offer to pay me with something called... um... what was it again, Vir?"
"Bacon and eggs," Vir said helpfully, and Ivanova groaned and rubbed her eyes.
"So you see, Commander, you simply must do something about this. None of us are able to get any work done!" G'Kar said with an emphatic nod, certain that Ivanova now understood the importance of the matter.
"As if your little scribblings could be considered work," Mollari said scathingly.
"GENTLEMEN!" Ivanova shouted before G'Kar could reply. "What... exactly... has Marcus been asking for?" She had the strangest feeling that she knew what they were going to say, but it never hurt to hope that she was wrong.
"He is apparently in the process of constructing something," Lennier began.
"I-I tried to find out more," Vir added quickly, with a glance at Mollari, which told Ivanova exactly whose idea that had been. "But he said that he wouldn't show it to anyone until it was done."
Ivanova hid her face in her hands. "Tell me this is all a dream, and this is really happening to someone else."
"Well, if that's what you want-" Vir began, but Mollari elbowed him in the ribs.
After a moment, Ivanova lifted her head to see the four staring at her, patiently waiting to see what she was going to do next.
She lifted her eyes to the ceiling, took a deep breath, and then said, "All right... I'll go talk to him."
"Thank you, Commander!" G'Kar said joyfully, seizing her hand and shaking it heartily before dashing back down the corridor. Lennier just quietly bowed in Minbari fashion and left, while Mollari gave Ivanova a curt nod and stalked off, with Vir following in his wake, leaving Ivanova alone in the corridor.
Resisting the urge to start kicking the wall, she toggled her link. "Ivanova to C&C."
"C&C here," came back Corwin's voice.
"Just a heads-up. If an explosion goes off inside the station, it's probably me. I just thought you should know."
"Yes, ma'am," Corwin replied without a trace of hesitation or sarcasm.
Several minutes later, Ivanova was standing outside of Marcus' quarters, staring balefully at the closed door. Then she closed her eyes for a moment, re-opened them, and addressed her feet.
"His quarters are small, we haven't had any hazmat alerts... it can't be too bad..."
She squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and tapped the panel beside the door.
She had already decided that the best way to handle this was to blame it on the ambassadors - if she could keep it official, she might be able to get through this without wanting to strangle him.
"It's Commander Ivanova. I need to speak with you for a moment."
No sooner were the words out of her mouth when the door opened and Marcus came bounding out.
"Susan! What a pleasant surprise!"
"This isn't a social call, Marcus. I'm here because several of the ambassadors have lodged complaints about..." Her voice trailed off when she noticed that he was carefully keeping himself between her and his quarters. "Marcus, are you even listening to me?"
"Riveted to every word," he said promptly, moving again as she tried to see past him.
"Is there a reason you don't want me to see inside your quarters?"
"It's not done yet."
"Yes, that's why I'm here. Marcus, you can't keep badgering everyone on this station to help you build... whatever it is you're building in there."
"But I'm almost finished!" he protested, looking hurt. "I thought Babylon 5 was a place devoted to freedom and expression and the sharing of culture-"
"Yes, but it also stands for civilized behavior!" Ivanova shot back, wondering for the umpteenth time how she kept finding herself having conversations like these. "Asking the ambassadors for help at all hours of the day and night is hardly civilized."
"It was not 'all hours of the day and night'!"
He looked sheepish. "Well, maybe once or twice."
"I acknowledge that my enthusiasm got the better of me," he admitted, looking down at the floor, but the hangdog expression only lasted for a moment before his head came up again, his eyes bright with excitement. "After all, I'm almost finished!"
"And how much longer until it's actually done?"
"Well, you can't really rush art-"
"How... long?" she asked, gritting her teeth.
"Another day or so... at my current pace," he told her, but Ivanova promptly shook her head.
"No. Absolutely not. In another day or so, G'Kar, Londo, and Delenn will be camped out in C&C baying for my head if I don't do something. Your little art project is officially done."
"What?!" Marcus yelped.
"That's my final word on the matter, Marcus."
He opened his mouth, ready to protest, but then subsided. "I understand. But you realize that I won't accept that it's done until it's received the official Susan Ivanova seal of approval."
"I already said it's done," she protested.
"No, no, no, that won't do at all," he replied, shaking his head. "You'll have to see it for yourself."
"Fine," she sighed, moving forward, but he stopped her.
"No, not like that. You have to get the full effect of it all at once or the impact is lost. Close your eyes and give me your hand, and I'll lead you inside."
"Marcus, I've seen the inside of your quarters. A rabid Spoo could cross it in a matter of hours, it's not like you have all that much space to work with!"
He crossed his arms and stood defiantly in front of the door, clearly not intending to let her in unless she did it his way, and finally she gave up. "Fine."
She closed her eyes and held out her hand, and so missed the expression that flashed across Marcus' face for just an instant as he took her hand in his. Then he carefully led her inside, immediately having her turn to the right and following the wall.
"Good, just another couple of steps. Now stop and turn toward my voice. Count to three to give me a moment to get out of the way, then open your eyes."
She mentally rolled her eyes, but dutifully counted, "One... two... three."
Then she opened her eyes.
In the center of the room was something that vaguely resembled an orrery. She wasn't exactly certain how he had done it, although she thought she recognized bits of Minbari, Narn, and Centauri technology in the thing. Roughly ten feet in diameter, she caught flashes of holographic images here and there, swirling around an object in the center. Some sections of it were done in almost intricate detail, using crystals and wires, while in others, she thought she recognized what looked suspiciously like the plastic stirrers Marcus had been swiping from the mess hall.
"This... is what you've been working on?" she asked when she finally got her voice back. Moving a bit closer, she peered at the center of the orrery, and was considerably startled to see a hologram of herself there. Circling around her in various orbits that overlapped were what appeared to be representations of Sheridan, Garibaldi, Franklin, C&C, and all the other facets that made up Babylon 5. Hanging off to one side, unmoving, was a large drink coaster with "Epsilon 3" neatly inked on it, and zooming around the periphery of the whole thing were several little twinkles of lights that she would have sworn were Starfuries.
"Yes." Marcus stood beside her, fidgeting as he looked from her to the model and back.
"I thought you were working on something a little... you know..." She waved one hand in a vague gesture. "Low tech."
"It started out that way, but then I thought, 'Who am I to limit my artistic muse?' So I decided to experiment." He glanced from her to the model and back again. "So... what do you think?"
Ivanova was almost speechless. Almost.
"You're telling me, that in between Ranger missions and doing... whatever else you do when you're here... you made this? For me?"
"Exactly. You said you wanted to know where I fit in the grand scheme of things." He took her arm and led her around so she could see into the orrery. "There I am, right there."
Ivanova leaned a bit closer, and saw that of all the moving pieces around 'her' in the center, even when she was moving, there was one that was always just beside it.
"That one there... that's you?"
For a long moment, Ivanova was quiet as she studied the orrery.
"I like it," she said at last.
"Really?" The look of absolute delight on his face almost made her smile, but it wouldn't do to show him that... she'd never get him out of her hair.
"It has the official Susan Ivanova seal of approval?"
She laughed - she couldn't help herself. "Yes, it does. Now will you stop bothering the ambassadors and everyone else?"
"Yes," he said promptly.
"Good." She turned to go, but as she reached the door, she paused and looked back at the thing one last time.
"By any chance..." she asked slowly, wondering if she was going to regret this. "Can you take a picture of that for me?"
"I'll have the data crystal on your doorstep by this evening," he promised.
"Good," she said again, and stepped outside, the door hissing shut behind her. For a moment, she leaned against the closed door, staring at nothing.
"Damn... I forgot to ask him where he got that hologram of me from."
Then she shrugged and toggled her link one more time.
"Ivanova to C&C. You can call off the alert on that explosion."
"You're certain, Commander?" Corwin asked.
"Yep. No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow."