ONE MOMENT HERE, ANOTHER GONE
A Babylon 5 story
by Rachel Smith Cobleigh
Story by Rachel Smith Cobleigh and Joshua Sanofsky
"There has always been that chrono—the one on the wall in the living room. It is one of those antiques, a family heirloom from Grandpa Sheridan. Some people on Earth still have them. It's nothing fancy, really. I took it apart when I was four to see why the 'hands', as Dad calls them, kept moving around. It's just a collection of springs and gears—a real antique. I put it back together again, before Fier caught me playing with it.
"I don't know why I've always been uncomfortable around it. I never liked it even before I knew the reason my mother has been so silent lately. Time has never held a particularly frightening hold on me. Perhaps it is because all other chronos that I see merely state the present time, not showing the constant, unstoppable lurch forward that this one does. Now that I do know why my mother is so drawn and quiet, I went to stand there before the chrono—the 'clock', Dad calls it that, and the word is foul in my mouth, for what it represents—and I watched the ticking hands, the slipping gears. I watched their inexorable march as they leeched life away from us. Even with everything I've been given, I'm powerless to stop it.
Tick Tick Tick
"I wanted to smash its old glass cover; I wanted to reach in and grab hold of the metal hands and wrench and twist them out. I wanted to hold Time in my hands. I wanted to stop it dead still. I want my mother to smile again."
A blotch appeared on the paper, and Kaylenn stared at it for several long moments, before she realized it was a tear. Angry at her weakness, she rubbed her thumb across the damp spot, smearing the ink around it. The writing blurred before her, and she felt another tear slide down her nose. She stubbornly wiped her hand across her cheek, and put the pen back to the paper, but she couldn't see the words through the tears in her eyes, and so she flung the pen down in frustration and held her face in her hands. Hot tears welled up and slid over her fingers, her mouth quivered with the effort of keeping silent. She didn't want them to know that their strong daughter was crying on her bed like a little girl, all alone.
David was gone; his place was with the Anla'Shok, now. He was not Entil'Zha, yet, but their mother had all but given the position to him for the next few...months? Weeks? Days? Kaylenn's shoulders shook, wishing that she could be with her brother, or that he could be here, now. She didn't want to be alone. She hated being alone. It was her place to be with the Rangers; she was a fighter. Her skill with denn'bok was formidable, and her piloting skills were equal to his. Why was she the one forced to stay behind and watch her parents slowly die?
There was nothing Dr. Franklin could do; she knew that. She had asked him, and he had told her. He had never kept anything from her. In her years studying under him, he had always been honest with her, even when it was difficult. But even with everything he had learned about all of the known races in the galaxy, he still did not know what was in her father...in her, and David.
One day a week ago, on a whim, she had taken a sample of her own DNA and run a few minor comparison tests on it. Franklin had amassed a huge database of information, still growing every day from the information his contacts sent across the galaxy, and since the lab was a bit slow, she had had time for curiosity. She wanted to ask Franklin a few questions about some of her abilities without drawing too many of his suspicions. In addition to being the head of the Alliance's Institute of Medicine, Franklin was also the family physician, and her mentor. He had delivered Kaylenn, and her brother. She sniffed back her tears and curled up on her side on the blanket, remembering the afternoon that she had first started studying her own sample.
She had found some disturbing, unexpected things about her biology: her DNA was completely unique. Not in the colloquial sense—in that sense, everyone's DNA is unique—but in the sense that she, literally, was the only one of her kind. Well, David's record was similar, but not entirely. It wasn't just the half-Minbari, half-Human sequences that she expected; it was something more, something else that she'd never known about.
Physically, both she and David had a partial headbone, like their mother; they could never be mistaken for anything other than what they were. Kaylenn sometimes alternated between being proud of her appearance and wanting to hide it. She would, at times, have liked to be anonymous. But, as her mother said, to whomever much is given, much is required. She held herself in constant check, keeping with her role as the quiet, strong daughter, waiting in the shadows.
David was a born leader, he took to it naturally. He was strong, caring, sometimes downright annoying, but then, he was David. He had trained at the highest academies on Minbar, as a diplomat, as the son of a former Satai. He was, to put it mildly, young, attractive, and the firstborn son—with all of the birthright implied—of the One; the first child to be a direct descendant of all three. Since he was the fulfillment of Minbari prophecies, there really were not many beings that he had trouble influencing—and sometimes, she thought, manipulating-but he was honest, not hypocritical. Of course, having some telepathic ability didn't hurt him, either.
She, on the other hand, had more than 'some' ability. If David had inherited the public aspect of being born of the One, she had inherited the private aspect-and then some. Only her immediate family and Dr. Franklin had an inkling of what she could do, but she shielded herself even from them. The less they were exposed to it, the less trouble for everyone, the less embarrassing, hard-to-answer questions, and the less worry for all concerned. She could handle it by herself.
She had spoken to Lyta, once, before the woman had disappeared six years ago, and they had spent several hours together, testing her abilities. Lyta had finished the session with a pale, stunned expression on her face, and Kaylenn had only been able smile weakly and apologize. At that moment, Lyta gave her a look that sent shivers down Kaylenn's back, and whispered, "Be careful!" It was the last time she had seen her.
Kaylenn sighed. She spent her life standing in others' shadows and being careful. She was nearly eighteen, only a year younger than David, and while she had been trained in linguistics to rival Sho'Zar Lennier, had completed her degree in xenobiology only last month, and had achieved a sixteenth-level ranking with the denn'bok, she was still the second child. That was the way she preferred it: she was, by nature, quiet and reserved; she stayed in the background, played her role, and watched everything.
And now she was watching her parents waste away, one second at a time.
After she had found out about her biology, she had gone to Franklin to ask him about it, and by way of explanation, he had given her all the files that he had on her father. She watched twenty-year-old vids, mesmerized by how young her parents had looked and acted. Her mother's face was unlined, her hair a rich brown. And her father's hair was light brown, not a coppery red, like Lyta's! She wondered how it could have changed so drastically.
She watched a secure-cam recording from a night twenty-one years ago on the Babylon 5 station, when the writhing form of an enraged Vorlon tried to attack her mother, but her father ran in the way—and was caught in a blast of raw energy. She watched him stagger, and then a strange being, whose race she didn't recognize, shouted something at him, and he wrenched himself around to face the Vorlon—she gasped, seeing his body convulse as another Vorlon rose out of him and threw itself at the one already whirling around!—and then he fell into a limp heap, and her mother fell down next to him. A flash of energy, and then the two Vorlons twisted upwards and out of the camera's range, and the room was dim. She could make out her mother's form, crouched over the still body of her father. That strange being pulled her away...now he's...touching? her father's back-light glowed for moment, and then the being sat back, holding his head. Her father moved!
Franklin had put his hand on her shoulder, then flipped to the next record—the internal cam that he used to keep an analysis of what he found inside her father's bloodstream—an agent of unidentifiable form, repairing the cells.
"I've never been able to determine what this is, Kaylenn. David has traces of it, but as you've found, you have a saturation level of about half your father's—something else I can't explain to my complete satisfaction. All I know is that this was not in his body before he went to Za'Ha'Dum, and it was there after the vid you just saw. Whatever Lorien did to him, this is the result."
"That being you saw, the one that touched him. We never knew what he was, or where he came from. I have a feeling Susan might know, but she's not telling."
"Captain Susan Ivanova, the former commander of Babylon 5?"
"I shall have to speak with her the next time that I can. I heard that she's planning to be present at the commemoration ceremony when they close it down."
"I'd like to go back there, just to stand in Medlab for five more minutes."
Kaylenn smiled, then turned back to looking at the frozen vid before her, studying it. Franklin left her to the records and she sat watching the tiny things move around for a while. Parts of her own biology, and some of David's, too, were unidentifiable: DNA sequences that didn't match anything known to either Human or Minbari genotypes. Franklin had concluded that the sequences must have originated with Kosh and possibly Lorien. She watched Franklin's personal recordings, and found that over the course of several months, her father's genotype—and phenotype, subsequently—had been altered subtly, the most obvious sign being his change in hair color. Without much more to look to than a hunch, Franklin theorized that the Vorlon must have been in her father longer than anyone realized; what was left of Kosh had found a host in Sheridan until that struggle in the bay.
That symbiosis must have resulted in a partial melding of their DNA, Kaylenn realized. Lyta Alexander had also hosted the Vorlonambassadors—and her hair used to be the same shade of flaming red. It had been darker, more auburn, when Kaylenn had last seen her. Her own father's hair was now almost completely white. She had inherited the red hair and the light complexion from him. And now, to know that it was not really his...it tore a small piece from the pride she privately held for her resemblance to him. David had her mother's dark hair, but hers, hers was a fiery red.
She had the computer do a scan on a recorded sample of the energies in her father's blood, and among the information it returned, a pattern—a deteriorating pattern—was detected. She frowned, examining the repetitions, realizing that the rate of deterioration was constant; a biological timepiece, in effect, was what was keeping her father alive. With an increasing feeling of dread, she asked the computer to project the time it would take for the pattern to disappear completely. But instead of projecting a general time requirement, as she expected, it gave her a date. An hour. A minute. A second. And then asked her if she wanted a more specific display, in tenths or hundredths or thousandths of a second.
In that one moment, staring at the numbers on the screen, her world crashed down around her. Franklin found her, frozen and silent, half an hour later, when he came in to check on her progress. He saw the numbers on the screen, and the information around it, and turned pale.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" She had asked, in a rasping whisper. She could feel him stiffen behind her, and she pushed down the urge to let her thoughts tear into him. She turned them off, pushed them back behind the dark curtain in her mind, and bit down on her tongue until it hurt. She hated him: her mentor, friend, physician. He had kept the truth from her, from David, from her parents. She had never known.
"I...I never wanted to know, myself," he said quietly.
"You never saw this?" She whirled on him, still holding herself in check. "You never thought to find out?"
"I never wanted to find out, Kaylenn, there's a difference. How could you live, every day, knowing the exact millisecond that your friend would die? I can't," he turned his head away, emotions warring across his face. "I never wanted to know until I found a cure, a way to stop the cycle. I've never stopped trying, Kaylenn." He could not meet her eyes.
She swallowed her anger, and reached out to touch his mind gently, asking forgiveness. He looked up at her, eyes widening. Then his face wrinkled into a weary smile. "Of course," he said softly. "If you'll forgive me."
Kaylenn found it was her turn to look at the floor, as a lump rose in her throat. "I'm sorry, Dr. Franklin," she sighed. "I know you've never given up."
"Yes, but I've made a frustratingly small amount of progress, after all these years, Kaylenn," he replied, and went over to the records scattered behind her at the console. "I've tried studying how it works in you and David—the pattern has stabilized, if you've noticed, in your bodies—and I even tried giving him some of your blood, once, several years ago, to see if the stabilization would have any effect. Unfortunately, it dissipated almost immediately and began to break down at the same rate as the rest."
"Do they know?"
"We only knew that John had around twenty years left to live," he answered, his voice far away. His face was drawn. "Twenty years...nearly gone."
"Will you tell them, now that we know?"
"I don't know, Kaylenn," his fingers tightened around the stat board he was holding. "Not yet, but if they ask... One thing is for sure: I'm going to do everything in my power to find an answer for them in the short time he has left."
They had talked for hours, going over his research. Kaylenn devoted herself to studying it, and had been doing so, for the past week, almost entirely without sleep. Franklin had sent her home this morning, though; she was pale and tired, and had forgotten the last time that she had eaten. So here she was, curled up in an exhausted, crying ball on her bed—she had lowered it to the horizontal so that she could lay on it and write. She was too tense and worried to sleep, with images of the energy moving around the cells running an endless reel through her mind. She had decided to write—her mother said that it bared the soul and reflected what couldn't be seen at the first glance, and right now, she needed some clarity to be strong enough for her parents.
Kaylenn felt the tears stream across her cheeks, fighting the need to release the pent-up emotions, the exhaustion, the anger, and the feeling of utter helplessness that she had never known before. To know the exact moment—it was as if the clock in the living room taunted her with each lurch of its hands. She sobbed, caught her breath, trying to remain silent. Her parents were caught up in their duties; they were both tired, and now she could see in their walk and manner, in the way that they made an apparent effort to spend every moment together, that they were painfully conscious of the very thing that tortured her now. Her father would die in less than two months, six days, and eighteen hours...
They did not know the exact time, and perhaps that was more of a torture, always living in fear of the next moment. She sucked in a great sob; she did not want to disturb them from their morning meal, two rooms away. She'd come home four hours ago, tossed and turned on her bed, then paced, then tried to sleep again, and then decided to set the bed to the horizontal and write until she could see herself. Until she could find strength, and decide what to do.
For a long while, she had just stared at the blank sheet, trying to identify something in the roiling of emotions that swept around her. She had walked to the kitchen and made a warm mug of chla, sipped it as she walked around the house of her childhood. She had stopped in the living room and stared at the clock on the wall, its gilt frame and thin metal hands against a pale surface, edged by the blocky text of human numbers. After staring at its inexorable movements, she went back to her room, picked up the notebook, and forcefully pushed her thoughts behind the dark curtain.
Her shoulders shook, and she buried her face in the blanket, as another wave of sobs threatened to break out from her lips. She pulled her mouth tight, pressed her lips together, squeezed her eyes shut-but the tears still welled out, burning.
She felt his frown, a moment before he knocked on her door. Don't come in, she said, shakily, but he knocked again.
"Kaylenn? Please?" His voice was muffled through the door, but she heard him clearly, worried, in her mind. He was not telepathic, but he always knew, unerringly, when she was upset. She flipped the lock with a thought, and the door slid open. She knew he was there; she didn't want to look at him, to let him see. She pushed her face into the crook of her arm and choked back another sob.
John Sheridan frowned as he saw his daughter curled up on her side on her bed. She was not hurt, not physically, but Kaylenn was not given to being overly-emotional; something was seriously wrong. He went over and sat down on the edge of the bed carefully, not wanting to disturb her. Her small shoulders shook, and he heard a muffled sob. He put a hand on her back, rubbed it gently.
Daddy... it was laced with tears and a bitter blackness, helplessness, and loss. He swallowed at the sudden wave of emotion she sent over him. What had caused her such pain?
"What's wrong, Kay?" A sudden, horrifying thought— "Is David—"
"No," she sobbed. "It's...not David..." She let her arm slide back, and he saw her tear-streaked face, her beautiful features reddened and lined with pain.
"Are you sick?"
"No, Dad." She opened her eyes and looked at him, more tears sliding down her face. "I'm fine." She seemed to be withdrawing slightly.
"Your mother has been concerned about you lately, we've seen so little of you."
"I've been working with Dr. Franklin on his Brakiri synthetic antibodies' study."
"Working awfully long hours," he replied, a half-smile pulling at his mouth. Then his hand on her back stilled, and he became serious again. "But this isn't about that, is it?"
It was more of a statement than a question, she knew. She sniffed and looked away from him.
"I'm sorry for worrying Mother," she said, her throat constricted. "I never wanted to hurt her—" Guilt added a new stream of tears. She had been in a numbed state all week, and now with her father—her father—sitting beside her, alive, and her mother had been worried about her, and she had been so selfish, and it wasn't fair, why couldn't David be with them right now, and she felt so wretched and exhausted—
"Come here," he said, and reached down to hold her. She pulled herself up and curled against the soft robes on his chest, and he brought his arms around her, squeezed her gently. She sobbed, her shoulders shook.
"Oh, Dad..." her voice gave a shudder. He just held her, rocking her gently, as he had when she was a little girl. She remembered a time he had done this, many years ago, when she had fallen and scraped her knee. Fier was inside, making sure David took his bath, and Kaylenn had been playing outside on the rough stones in the back. She remembered running across the walkway, pretending to be a beautiful Whitestar, and then her toe caught the edge of a stone and she fell. Her leg hurt so badly, and there was blood across it, and she was so panicked at the sight of it, she couldn't concentrate well enough to push the skin back together. This frightened her even more, and she started to cry.
She had been all alone, the evening suns were setting, and no one could hear her, so far away in the big house. Then her father had come running around the side wall, shouting her name—she could feel his reassurances, and she remembered feeling the shadows falling back—and then he gently picked her up, and carried her into the house. It hurt when Fier cleaned the cut and put a bandage on it, but she was in her daddy's arms, so it didn't hurt so bad anymore.
She pressed her cheek against his chest, feeling the comforting, steady-and strong-beating of his heart, and she took a deep breath, let it out slowly. Her tears were beginning to subside, and her trembling had quieted down. She closed her eyes and just listened to him, realizing how tired she felt.
"My beautiful Kay," he said softly, his chest rumbling. "A grown woman, with so many responsibilities. You have always been the strong one, like your mother. But sometimes, I think, you were forced to grow up too quickly. So much is expected of you, I know."
"No, Daddy, it's not that," she smiled against his robes and opened her eyes. "I've never regretted growing up the way you and Mother taught us. I was a little girl, and then I saw life—perhaps a darker side of it than you would have liked, but life nonetheless—and then I no longer lived in a child's world. No, it's not about me."
"Then what is it about?"
Instead of asking her why, as she expected him to, he was silent. She pulled back from his arms and looked up at him. His eyes were old, older than she had ever seen them before. She refused to lower her gaze. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?
He looked away, swallowed.
"When were you and Mother intending to tell us?" She wasn't angry, she was too tired to be angry.
"Your mother and I don't talk about it much," he replied, turning his head back to look at her. "We have lived these past twenty years doing our best not to think about it." He looked down at his hands, which were holding hers. "What can we do? Stephen is still looking for a way to... but he hasn't found one." He reached up to touch her cheek. "We have lived to treasure every moment, and every memory. We have you, and David. That is enough."
Kaylenn looked away, emotions warring inside of her, her mind struggling to think clearly. She wanted to blurt out everything she knew, but something held her back. Finally, she swallowed and turned back to him.
"Do you know how long?"
"No," he said. "But I do know that I don't want to waste one moment. Which reminds me: your mother and I have a request for you." He started to rise, but she put a hand on his arm.
"Wait—what is it?"
"Not until after you get some rest. It can wait." He stood, bent down, and kissed her forehead. "Get some sleep."
"Shhh." He picked up her empty mug, now cold, from the night-table. "We'll be back this evening, after the opening ceremonies of the Brav Centaurum. Emperor Mollari has insisted on our attendance. Your mother is preparing to leave."
She sank back against the bed. "Have fun."
He smiled, shook his head. "We will, I'm sure." He went to the door, then turned back to look at her for a moment.
"I love you, Dad."
"I love you too, my little one. We'll see you again in a few hours."
He stepped out, and the door slid shut behind him. Smiling, Kaylenn sank down on the warm blanket and closed her eyes.
"Dracann, we cannot allow Shalimar to bring Delenn and the Starkiller onto the Isil'Zha! Is it enough, already, that we must forever be forced to cater to the Alliance and the accursed Rangers?—we! The Grey, Who Stand Between the Candle and the Star! We are not their servants, we do not have to cower under their weak rule! You and I, warrior caste, you are of the Sky Rider clan and I am of the Wind Swords. We are the oldest clans on Minbar, and yet we can wield no power except that which Delenn sanctions! She is not Grey!"
Satai Dracann folded his hands under his grey robes and frowned at Vekhat. He did not like the direction that this meeting was travelling towards.
"Entil'Zha President Delenn is of the Grey, Vekhat, more than either you or I. She was leading the Grey Council when you were not yet finished your teachings."
"And so she has become old, and she no longer leads us! If this is so, why do we still bow to her every whim and fancy?"
"We do not."
"Ah, I see have touched a nerve in you, Satai Dracann," Vekhat said, his mouth slowly widening in what Dracann could only think of as a predatory grin. "She asks for Minbari ships to defend against every little Alliance skirmish, we agree. She asks that we not replace Hilecet, who was only of the worker caste, with a honorable member of the warrior caste, and we had to give up our rightful position to another drudge. The worker caste outnumber us five to two, Dracann! After a thousand years of three warrior caste positions on the Council, we have spent the last twenty years, crippled, in only two. Sacrifice after sacrifice—for her?"
"It is not for her; it is for the good of the people."
"Listen to yourself, Dracann! Have you given up your mind and your clan's honor for a manipulative, deluded, former Satai who is not even fit to call herself Minbari?"
"No!" Dracann whirled on him. "I respect her even-handed leadership and fairness! Entil'Zha Delenn and Anla'Shok'Na Sheridan have led the Alliance faithfully, for nearly twenty full years! It is you who are deluded and manipulative, Vekhat! It is you who are jealous and empty-headed, listening to the vindictive grumblings of old Wind Swords who have nothing better to do than crave power and bully the other clans and castes into cowering under you in fear! I will not listen to another moment of this!"
Dracann gathered his robes around him, turned, and strode to the door.
"I truly regret this day, then, Dracann," Vekhat said, softly. "When not even my fellow brother in the warrior caste will stand for honor and justice."
Dracann stopped in the doorway and turned around slowly, to fix his gaze on Vekhat. "The Grey Council," he said, enunciating each word, "was not created by Valen as a place to air personal vendettas, or to elevate one caste or clan over another. Each of the Nine may have their own opinions, and may voice them when called upon to do so, but selfish and petty prejudices have no place among us."
Vekhat shook his head, a half-sneer on his face, and raised his hands to his chest, in the traditional farewell gesture. "The voice we are given is only so free as long as Delenn approves of what it says. I refuse to allow her tyranny over the Council any longer. If Shalimar will not oppose her, I will. The time is ripe, and the stars are rising for change. Good day, Sky Rider Dracann."
Dracann returned the gesture, stiffly. "Delenn does not have the stranglehold over the Council that you pretend she does, Vekhat. She has guided us well, and I will not participate in your protest. Good day, Satai Vekhat."
Vekhat watched the older Minbari leave the room, and he stood in silence for a long moment, curiously invigorated. He had hoped, but not expected, the old Sky Rider to join him in his fight. That such a renowned member of the warrior caste would give up his clan's honor so easily was the final sign that the entire Council was corrupted, and that he, Vekhat, alone, could see the truth. The religious caste sided with Delenn, and the worker caste practically worshipped her for giving them a strong voice on the Council. Dracann was a weak-minded fool; it was now left to Vekhat to lead the Council into the fire-and out of the ashes, into triumph!
Vekhat stood before the candle flickering on the crystal stand and pulled his cowl over his head. Holding his palm in front of the tiny flame, he recited the ancient blessing of remembrance.
"I am Grey. I stand between the Candle and the Star."
Kaylenn was sitting behind the kitchen table, in the corner, reading an old, well-worn copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, when her parents came into the house. She heard her mother laughing lightly, and she looked up from the pages as they walked into kitchen. Her father said something in a low voice into her mother's ear, and she smiled, blushed.
"Oh, you are too—" but whatever she had been about to call him was cut off, because he covered her mouth with his own in a long, lingering kiss. Kaylenn smiled, watching them across from the room, unnoticed. Her parents were not known for keeping the proper distance from one another in public, as per the Minbari custom. Her mother, especially, seemed to have decided to dispose with that unspoken rule, and they had, on occasion, managed to slightly embarrass at least half of the population on the planet. Several of the other member races in the Alliance also seemed taken aback at times.
This fact had not appeared to affect her parents one whit, especially during the period after her father's first term in office, when he and Delenn had been trying to find some rest after thirty years in government service. The interstellar press had gone to great lengths to follow their personal lives. At first, Sheridan and Delenn had attempted to keep the news hounds out, but as they had no desire to have the Ranger escort also armed with annoying and cumbersome loads of jamming equipment wherever they went, they eventually decided to give the press exactly what they wanted. When it became no longer such a challenge to get vids, and the public found that the day-to-day activities of former Alliance President John J. Sheridan and his wife, Minbari Ambassador Entil'Zha Delenn, were just as mundane as their own, the press moved on to other, more controversial, topics.
Her parents pulled apart, to catch their breath.
"Feeling better, Mother?" Kaylenn asked, smiling. She picked up her mug of hot chla and took a sip. She was happy to see her mother with more color in her face, looking more alive than she had in so many weeks. Her father looked content just to be standing there.
Her mother sighed softly and smiled, leaning against him, and turning her head to look at Kaylenn, in the corner. He rested his chin on her head and closed his eyes for a moment, his arms around her. Kaylenn froze the quiet image in memory: her parents, relaxed, peaceful, and so completely in love with one another.
The ticking of the clock suddenly intruded upon the moment in her mind, and she swallowed hard, looked away from them. She put the mug down on the table and closed the book. Clearing her throat, she pulled a smile onto her face.
"How were the festivities on Centauri Prime?"
"Quite festive," her mother replied, her eyes twinkling.
"They certainly know how to open the Centaurum properly," her father said, glancing at the ceiling for a moment. "It appears that Vir has bulldozed a few more precedents down. He seemed most...energized...with the proceedings."
She had not met the new Emperor Vir Cotto, yet, but her parents appeared to approve of him; bulldozing precedents, where the Centauri were concerned, was pretty much universally recognized as a good thing. The family had suffered a few years earlier when David had been the focus of an attack by allies of the corrupted Centauri government. He had survived, but not without great expense. Her father was not particularly fond of the planet.
"What did you want to speak with me about?"
They pulled back, looked at each other for a moment, and then separated: her mother went across the kitchen to get a mug from the cupboard, and her father came over and sat down at the table.
"We have a situation that has just come up," her mother said, opening a cupboard. Her father turned to look at her, nodding.
"It is with particularly bad timing, too," he said, turning back to look at Kaylenn, "Because, as you know, the Senate convenes for the new session tomorrow morning."
"This case in 'bad timing', as you call it, strikes me more as 'suspicious timing', John," her mother said, taking her mug out of the warmer and walking across the kitchen towards them. "Kaylenn, the Grey Council has gone into orbit in the Isil'Zha, for reasons not entirely known to me, and has requested mine and your father's presence immediately—"
"—or, as they phrased it: 'as soon as is possible, at your convenience'," her father inserted.
"Also for reasons unknown to you?" Kaylenn asked, frowning.
"Well, Shalimar cited several reasons for asking us to come aboard, the most notable being that the Grey Council has received reports of what they believe to be remnants of the Shadows' allies, attacking Minbari near-Rim border colonies. Before they release any information to the rest of the Alliance worlds, they want our help in deciding what to do." Delenn sat down across the table from her.
"And what do your sources have to say about this development?" Kaylenn asked, wondering how the Council had gotten information of this before the Rangers had.
"Well," her father said, raising his eyebrows. "We have been receiving reports, but the attacks just appear to be raiders or pirates using partial Shadow technology. Earth has some knowledge of the technology required for such attacks, as do the Drazi and the Centauri. However, the last we knew, the Drazi have been using it to develop hyperspace travel without using the jump gates, and the Centauri have been building telepath-mechanical links for use in small fighters, both of which are operating under Alliance standards."
Kaylenn leaned forward and looked at her parents, still not quite sure why they were telling her all of this.
"So...where do I come in?"
Her parents looked at each other for a long moment, and then her mother took a sip from her mug. Her father looked down at his hands, then up at Kaylenn.
"Ah...your mother and I are uneasy about going up to the Isil'Zha. The Council is not normally aboard the ship, except in times of war, and we're at peace—"
"—mostly," her mother inserted.
"—mostly at peace," he continued smoothly. "Therefore, the only reason they're calling us up there is that whatever it is that they wish to discuss with us, they feel it is too sensitive for the meeting to be planetside."
"Several militant groups have been vocal in their threats, as of late, and the Council is most likely anxious and unwilling to discuss ways to protect themselves, unless they are sure that no one is listening in," her mother said.
"Then if it is just a matter of Council security, why do they want you and Dad up there?"
"Probably to hit two birds with one stone," her father replied, crossing his arms. "They want to speak with us about the reports, before the Senate convenes—during which time we will most likely be too busy for impromptu visits—and at the moment, they are holding talks aboard the Isil'Zha, instead of the Chambers, because they need security."
"It sounds like a routine meeting," Kaylenn said, frowning. "I still don't understand why you're telling me all of this." A reason dawned on her— "Oh no, Mother, you know that I don't want get involved in your politics. I've chosen medicine, and I have no intention of following you and David into all of—"
"Kaylenn," her mother said, calmly. "We are not trying to force you into anything. We are only asking for your help."
"My...help?" Now she really didn't understand.
"We're going alone, no escort," her father said, by way of explanation. His face was set, serious. Kaylenn started.
"What? You mean that Jason and Tannier won't be going with you? Why not?"
"Shalimar said that the Council does not want any unauthorized guests aboard ship. They refused to give authorization to any guards, Ranger or otherwise. Several of them are cautious to the point of paranoia right now, after what happened to Satai Hilecet," he replied.
"Understandable," her mother said, "But entirely uncomfortable for us. I have no doubts that each of the members of the Council are honest and upright, but when tensions are so high, one stumble could mean our downfall."
Her parents looked at her. Kaylenn waited for further explanation, and when none came, she felt the slighest frustration.
"And...? How can I help?"
Her parents looked at her, then at each other. Her mother tapped her fingers on her mug, and her father licked his lips. Kaylenn had a sinking feeling.
"We thought, perhaps, you might like to come with us..." her mother said, then trailed off, looking at him. He leaned forward.
"...as a guard," he said, paused, then amended, "of a sort."
"I'm not as trained as Jason and Tannier, and I thought that no weapons were allowed on the Isil'Zha," Kaylenn said, knowing where her parents were going with this, but wanting to put up at least some token resistance; to pretend, at least for a few seconds more, that she didn't know what they were about to ask.
"No," he said. "Kaylenn, we know that you have some...abilities—"
"Telepathy," her mother said. "It was your father's idea; he has seen more of it in you than I have."
"I know you're not too keen on using them, for whatever reasons that you have," he said. "But we thought, perhaps, you might be willing, just this once..."
"We've never forced you to go through training," her mother said, "Because you've never displayed enough ability—no other telepaths have ever approached us—"
"Except Bester," her father said, with obvious dislike.
"Except for him, but even he and his followers found nothing," she replied. A black thought flew, unbidden, through Kaylenn's mind. Her own voice echoed in her ears. I saw life—perhaps a darker side of it than you would have liked... 'Nothing' was exactly what her parents needed to know about that darker side. She sat forward, propped her elbows on the table.
"You said yourself that no one else is allowed on board. How can I go with you?"
"Your father asked Shalimar to allow you to come, and I agreed with him. We told her it would be an invaluable learning experience for you, if you are to take your proper place." Her mother noted the souring look on her face, and quickly added, "That last was for her benefit, Kaylenn."
"All right, assuming that I do come with you, what do you want me to do?" Kaylenn asked. Requests made to order, a voice in her mind said, in a mocking tone.
"If you know something's going to happen, or you get an uneasy feeling you can't explain, or anything else, that you'll let us know. Telepathically," her father answered.
"So you want me to stand behind you and warn you if I think something is wrong," she said, beginning to think that the situation was not so unsalvageable, after all. It certainly would be quite an experience to be on the Grey Council's ship.
"It is likely that you will be required to remain outside of the Council Room; your father and I will be the only ones allowed in," her mother said.
"Do you think that you would be able to do that?" He asked.
Kaylenn looked down at her hands, and her eyes caught on the hairline scar that ran across her left palm. It was so thin as to be almost invisible, but she could see the whitened line. She remembered how it had been cut, and how she had immediately pushed the skin back together to stop the blood from making her hand slick. In doing so, she had inadvertently healed it within a matter of seconds, and all that remained a moment later was the thin white line and a long smear of drying blood. Yes, she could do what her parents were asking. Did she want to? She sighed, and looked up at them.
"Yes," she said.
"Good," her father replied, smiling widely. "You'll do fine."
"Then we will leave as soon as possible," her mother said, pleased. "I will send a message to the Council to let them know we will be arriving in an hour." She got up and took her mug to the counter, then left the room.
He nodded. "I'll go drop David a note, let him know where we are and when we'll be back. Right." He got up and went across the kitchen, disappeared down the hallway towards his study.
Kaylenn sat in the corner, her mug now cold and Twenty Thousand Leagues forgotten, as an uneasy feeling settled itself in the pit of her stomach.
"Shuttle One, bay doors opening," the Isil'Zha's controller's voice came over the system. A set of doors in the aft of the ship began to swing downward. Sheridan guided the shuttle towards the opening.
"Docking procedures commencing, confirm signal," Sheridan replied, in the guttural worker-caste Minbari dialect. Delenn smiled.
"Not badly done," she murmured. He shook his head, turned to grin at Kaylenn.
"I think I wore even Lennier's patience thin," he said, and looked back up at the bay doors above them. "Kept mauling the pronunciations."
"Well, Lennier was an excellent teacher," Delenn said sweetly.
"And I'm not a good student?" He turned to her in mock indignation.
"Signal confirmed. Switch guidance systems to automatic."
"Take her up," he responded, running his fingers across the crystals. The console hummed once, and then they felt the ship's guidance systems lock on. They rose up through the doors, and Kaylenn looked out through the main viewscreen as the shuttle slid into place and locked onto a docking platform.
"Stay close to me," Delenn said, "I will speak for you."
Kaylenn nodded. She pulled the cowl of her Ranger robes over her head, and bowed her head down. Holding her hands together, she stood and waited for her parents to walk out of the shuttle, and then she followed them out into the bay.
"Entil'Zha President Delenn," a pleasant female voice said. Kaylenn knew it was Shalimar.
"Satai Shalimar," Delenn replied, inclining her head. "It is a great honor to be invited to meet with the Council. We come only to be of service."
"It is our honor that you have come," Shalimar replied, completing the formal greeting. She turned to Sheridan. "Anla'Shok'Na Sheridan, we thank you also for coming. Your knowledge is of the highest importance to us."
"You are welcome, Satai Shalimar," he responded, bowing slightly. "I hope that I may be of help to you."
"And this, I assume, is your daughter, Kaylenn?"
"She is," Delenn said, turning slightly, so that Shalimar could see Kaylenn. Kaylenn bowed, eyes still fixed on the floor tiles.
"You have been properly trained," Shalimar observed, satisfied. Kaylenn saw the bottom of the Satai's grey robes sway and move away. "Come, we have much to discuss, and little time for which to do it."
"Yes," her mother answered. The group began to walk down the hallways of the ship. Kaylenn stayed behind her parents, head lowered. acolytes surrounded them on all sides. There was some tension in the air, but she felt nothing out of the ordinary. She had resolved to keep her abilities behind the dark curtain; she would not use them unless something of enough insistence forced them out of their place. She did not know if there were any telepaths, even latent ones, among the acolytes. It was better not to expose herself.
They walked in silence until they reached a lift. The acolytes stood aside and let them go in ahead, then followed behind. They rode upwards for several seconds, and then the lift slid to a stop, and the doors hissed, opening into the Great Hall of the Isil'Zha.
Every Minbari ship was built with a central hall, lined with crystal from the homeworld. The Great Hall was grandiose, arching, and beautiful. Kaylenn looked up, slightly, as they made their way out of the lift, and she and her parents stopped at the end of the Hall. She stood next to her father and looked across the room, carefully keeping her eyes at chest level. Acolytes stood along both walls, holding the triangular bells used to signal the entrance of the Council.
Shalimar and her accompanying acolytes went halfway across the Hall, and then she stopped in the center. They moved away, taking up positions by the doors to the Council Room, at the far end, and along the walls. The Satai pulled the heavy cowl of her grey robes over her head, covering her face, and turned to look at them. The chimes sounded as the acolytes moved the bells, in time to a slow rhythm. Eight grey-robed figures emerged, from both sides of the far end of the Hall, and stood behind Shalimar in a triangular pattern. The chimes faded away, and there was silence.
Sheridan stood between his wife and daughter and watched the ritual movements, looking at the Council members standing behind Shalimar. They were utterly motionless, the grey robes covering them completely. A small shiver ran through him, as he remembered the last time he had stood at this end of the Great Hall, thirty years earlier, in chains. The same silent figures had been standing before him; different people, but the same figures.
He, Stephen, and G'kar, beaten, and dragged before the very leaders of the race that was massacring his own. They had hated him as much as he hated them. He had been the only human commander to score a victory against their far superior forces, and then only by trickery. He was Starkiller, reviled and hated by every Minbari in the Hall. That guard had taken great pleasure in beating him, he knew. The Minbari had been ready to deliver the killing blow, when—
"We have come, by your invitation. We are ready," Delenn intoned.
Sheridan drew in a breath, frowned at the grey figure standing at the point of the triangle, closest to them. She was the head of the Minbari government, he could not see her face, Delenn's voice—
"Then you may enter," Shalimar raised one grey-robed arm, then lowered it and turned away. The other members of the Council began to move into the darkened room through the door, slowly, their robes sliding along the floor. Sheridan watched them walk inside, and then he felt Delenn's hand grasp his own, and he squeezed it, gently. There was something whirling around inside of his thoughts right now, something he must remember—
They began to walk down the Hall, towards the dark door ahead of them. Kaylenn fell into place behind them. After a few paces, he pulled himself out of the reverie and realized that something was wrong. Delenn was squeezing his hand tightly. He looked down at her and she shook her head slightly. He frowned and looked back up at the door in front of them, swallowed, and then they stepped inside.
Kaylenn moved behind them and stood next to the door. The panels slid down behind her parents, closing them out of her view. She frowned at the floor. Her stomach was tight, but she didn't know why. She had not felt anything strong enough from anyone in the room to open her awareness. There was something not right, however. Her mother had seemed surprised when the Council formed in that triangle behind Shalimar, and her ritual greeting to them had been strained. Her father, also, had become upset over something, but what, she hadn't reached in to find out.
Acolytes stood along the walls. Some had left, most likely to perform duties for the meal after the meeting. She raised her head and looked at one who was standing across from her. He held her gaze for a moment, then looked away. Kaylenn looked around the Hall, and found that they were all watching her. She took a deep breath, let it out. The meeting was going to take a while, and waiting out here was uncomfortable. She felt every pair of eyes in the room staring at her, trying to see more of what she hid inside the robes. Having the partial bone crest was distinctive enough, but her flaming red hair did nothing to help her stay inconspicuous. She decided to lower her head and let the cowl shut their prying eyes out.
"We must move against these raiding forces, if that is really what they are," Satai Vekhat said, once again pulling the cowl of his robe back from his head. "If they are, in fact, remnants of the Shadows' allies, then we cannot wait—they must be dealt with swiftly and fatally. We cannot allow such an attack on the Minbari people without immediate retribution."
Shalimar walked around the inside of the circle of nine, holding the tall staff of the Chosen One. It tapped the floor as she moved from behind Sheridan and Delenn, who were standing in the center circle of light. She stopped a foot from Vekhat.
"Yes, we must not allow the attacks—be they raider or Shadow—to continue," she said, her mellifluous voice echoing in the Council Room. "But Entil'Zha President Delenn does not challenge that. She asks only that we consort with the other member worlds, and not launch an attack alone."
"The other worlds have yet not been threatened," Vekhat answered. "They will not agree to fight our battles! This is our responsibility, and only through this can we demonstrate our strength."
Delenn moved forward slightly in the circle of light, and held her hand out, signalling Shalimar that she wished to speak. Shalimar nodded and stood back a step.
"Satai Vekhat," Delenn said softly. And tiredly, Sheridan thought. They had been arguing about what to do about the attacks for the past two hours. His body was aching from standing so long, unmoving, behind his wife. He had only spoken once, and then only to answer a question directly addressed to him. Not being a member of the Council, he was only allowed to speak when asked.
"The great strength of the Minbari people is undeniable," Delenn said, clasping her hands behind her back. "None other in the Alliance would challenge us; we are the oldest of the starfaring races in this galaxy, and respected. We do not need to attack alone—it is a greater strength to fight alongside the other races, as a whole people. Fighting alone would only weaken us and isolate us from the others. I urge you to accept our proposition, and present your evidence to the Senate. A matter of this importance will be addressed immediately."
"The Senate will only debate, and nothing will be done!"
"As we have been doing for the past two hours," Shalimar answered smoothly, cutting off any further protest by setting her staff on the floor. "We have heard the arguments and propositions of both sides, and it is enough. We will deliberate, and come to a decision." She began to pace in the dark circle around Sheridan and Delenn again, looking at each Satai in turn. Vekhat pulled his grey robes back over his face, hiding his mounting anger from view. When Shalimar had completed the full circle, she stepped back into the vacant spot that was her own, and pulled her own cowl over her head.
Sheridan frowned in the silence, and shifted the weight on his feet. His boots were comfortable, but his body felt old and heavy, and his feet were tired. At sixty-seven, he did not particularly like to stand motionless for two hours, under a hot light, listening to nine Minbari deliberating a choice that he could have made in under ten minutes. Delenn seemed to have boundless patience, but even she was tense and exhausted, her small shoulders tightened. She was some ten years older than he, but her half-Minbari body was better suited for this stiff inaction. His back ached, and he shifted slightly, again. A sigh accidentally escaped his lips, and he suddenly felt her fingers brushing his own.
He grasped two fingers and held them, and she curled them around his, silently apologizing for the agonizing wait. They were not supposed to touch, but right now he did not care, and apparently, neither did she. He looked over her head at the stiffly unmoving Satai standing across from them. The younger Minbari—Vekhat, his name was—had been unusually adamant that they attack immediately. Sheridan frowned, looked at the Council members on either side of Vekhat, one a worker caste, and the other, the second military caste. They all stood motionless for several minutes. He wondered how long it would take for them to finish their deliberations.
Shalimar moved to pull off her cowl, with one hand, and Sheridan turned to look at the movement. Delenn slipped her fingers from his grasp, and he quickly straightened and held his hands together, looked over her head, fixing his eyes on the darkness over Vekhat's cowl.
"Have you finished, Satai?" Shalimar asked.
One by one, the Council members pulled their cowls back, finally uncovering their heads to the light. They clasped their hands together in front of their chest.
"We have," they replied, in unison, with perfect timing. Shalimar stepped out from her place.
"Satai Isolac," she said.
A tall, thin Minbari, worker caste, responded, "I believe we should join forces. We need not waste our resources fighting a battle alone."
"Satai Passalier," Shalimar said.
"I believe that we can only fight the darkness together, never alone," the oldest of the religious caste Minbari answered, inclining his head slightly towards Delenn. Delenn stood, unmoving.
The second military caste Minbari stood forward. He paused, gathered himself. Sheridan saw Vekhat tense.
"Though in my younger days I may have agreed with the words of Satai Vekhat, I see now that Delenn speaks wisdom. We must give what information we can to the Senate convocation, at the earliest possible time, and join forces with the Alliance to fight these attacks. Satai Isolac and Satai Passalier speak the truth." Dracann stood back, calm, satisfied.
Shalimar nodded, looked around the circle. "Are there any opposing?"
Sheridan tensed, waiting for Vekhat to explode, but the Minbari was silent, his face set. At least he seemed to finally have come to his senses. They could have been finished with this meeting an hour and a half earlier, if he hadn't been so vocal.
Shalimar stepped forward, looking at Sheridan and Delenn.
"Then the decision is made, the Council has spoken," she said, her voice clear and firm. "Tomorrow, we will present the evidence to the Interstellar Alliance Senate and await their decision. We will contribute any and all requested assistance, be it ships or forces, to the planned attack. We stand as one!"
"As one!" The others echoed. "We are the Grey, we stand between the Candle and the—" A scream rent the air around them.
"No! You are all weak-minded fools, and you shall all die!"
Sheridan jumped and turned his head towards the defiant scream—he saw Vekhat reach inside his robes—
—outside, Kaylenn frowned. A nudge in her mind woke her from her thoughts, and she turned towards the doors—
Vekhat's right hand came out in a fist, something small and metallic inside it; Sheridan recognized it for what it was, started to move his arm up to block—Vekhat made a swift movement, and his five-foot denn'bok extended—
—a growing urgency, she touched the smooth wall—
Sheridan saw the darkness in the Satai's face, and he stepped forward—but he was too sluggish, his body stiff for too long. Vekhat stepped out, pike raised. Sheridan had moved far enough forward to put his right shoulder between Delenn and the arcing blow—the fighting pike smashed down and into him, and he felt a sickening crack as the metal connected—he cried out—
—Kaylenn lifted up her head, suddenly, as a wave of fear drove itself into her skull, and she pounded on the door.
"LET ME IN!" she screamed—
—he fell heavily, pulling Delenn down with him, and hit the floor hard, the crash jarring through his whole body. He tried to cover her—
"Vekhat, don't!" Dracann shouted, throwing himself at the arm holding the pike. He grabbed for it, but Vekhat was younger, stronger, faster. Too late, Dracann saw the fist smash up and into his throat, and then Vekhat swung the pike around, driving it into his side and throwing him off, and he crashed to the floor. Vekhat swung back to the two at his feet, brought the pike up with both hands—
Sheridan heard Delenn gasp, and he looked up—the pike swung down again, but he couldn't lift his arm!—he heard her cry out, and tried to move—the pike came down and across his shoulder, into her head—the jarring thunk against her bone crest, and then her cry cut off, and he could only scream NO—
—Kaylenn was driven mad with frustration and pain, and she pounded the door and pushed her fist into it—the plastcrete wall dented!—she saw it, frowned, paused for a split second, stepped back, pulled the curtain in her mind away for a heartbeat, and drove her body into the doors—
—and through them, they fell away like cobwebs and dust, aside from her, she stopped, her cowl flying back—
—the dark room, her father and mother, lying on the floor, in the center circle of light, a grey-robed figure swinging a pike down at them, and she couldn't reach them before it hit again—
—she twisted and tore the metal out of his fingers and sent it spinning across the room—it hit another shadowed form, who cried out and fell. She ignored the cry and fixed her eyes on the figure standing over her parents—she whipped her mind out and picked him up, flung him across the room, and he flew back, crashing into the far wall. There was a massive cracking sound, and in the dim light behind the circles, she saw his figure slide to the floor in a lifeless heap. With a massive rush of energy, she stopped cold, stumbled forward a step, and pulled back.
Her breaths came fast and hard, and she let her eyes fall to the still bodies lying in the center light. She heard a heartbeat pounding in her ears, and another, softer one, pulsing a quieter rhythm behind that. Then, suddenly a rush of pains, hot on her shoulder, aching throughout her body, a crushing, heavy blackness weighing on the side of her head, chest tightening, she felt so tired, so exhausted, so tense, so relieved—? abruptly, she squeezed her eyes shut and dragged her mind inward, pushing it back, back; the dark curtain was now a massive door, she fought and strained to push it closed. She strained, her stomach turning from the mass of sensations flooding into her—she pushed the door until the flood slowed to a river, then a stream, then a trickle, and with one, last, heave, she sealed it shut, breathing heavily. She took a deep breath, swallowed in a dry mouth. She opened her eyes, tears burning down her cheeks.
Every face, everyone standing in the circles of light, were frozen, all staring at her. She swallowed another dry lump, breathing. Each face was in shock, mouths open. Her father groaned and fell back to the floor, away from covering her mother, and winced, clenching his teeth against the pain she knew he was in. The Council members still stared.
Sheridan lifted his head and turned slowly towards the light streaming in from behind him, looking towards where the massive explosion had just been. A bomb? He was still alive... When he turned, though, his eyes stopped, and his mouth opened in shock, as he took in the rubble strewn across the floor and the remains of half of the wall where they had come in. One half of the sliding door was still in the wall, twisted and smashed inward; the other half of the doors and a huge section of the bulkhead were missing. Shards of the plastcrete rubble were blown out in a sprawling heap, crumbling, bent...and in the middle of the light streaming in from the massive hole, pieces all around her, stood Kaylenn. His daughter. Her red hair streamed out around her head, her bone crest flared up behind her shadowed face. She was straining, fighting something, for a long moment, and when she opened her eyes, they were wide, in shock.
She looked up at the faces above and around them, paused for a long moment, and then looked past him. Slowly and painfully, he turned his head and followed her gaze. He saw the body crushed against the far wall. Crushed.
Beside him, Delenn groaned, a soft, pitiful sound. The room awoke, suddenly, and Shalimar dropped down next to them, putting her staff behind her. Immediately, two others knelt down next to them. Pain flooded into his tightened neck and shoulder, and he groaned, dropped his head to the floor. Their alien faces knelt over him.
Other voices spoke quietly, the whispered movements of robes, padded feet, scraping rubble. He felt Delenn move weakly beside him, and he touched her hand, the arm that lay trapped under her body. Her fingers moved slightly against his, and a small taste of relief washed over him.
Kaylenn stood, shaking, trembling, her breathing slowing down ever so slightly. She was just starting to realize, just starting to see—her eyes traveled over the movement around her parents, and fell on the broken form across the room, the rag doll smashed in the corner. Her heart leapt up into her throat and held her there, fighting panic. She looked down at her hands, turned them slowly before her, and she saw no marks, no cuts, nothing. Smooth hands.
She spun, suddenly, and took in all of the rubble around her; she twisted and froze, staring at the massive, warped hole in the bulkhead. Voices moved around her, near her, past her, but she could only see the destruction, and hear one phrase, one, damning phrase, playing over and over, I did this I did this I did this I did this...
Panic washed over her, and she drew herself inward, grabbing onto her shoulders, fingers clenching in the folds of her clothing. Acolytes stood wide-eyed, staring at her, absolutely frozen, on the other side of the hole, out in the sparkling beauty of the Great Hall. Light streamed into the darkened room. A voice called out behind her, for the med teams to arrive. A klaxon began to sound, its eerie sound echoing in the Great Hall. The acolytes slowly unfroze, looked around, their mouths open. Figures stepped past her, slowly, climbing through the rubble, giving her a wide berth. She hugged herself, still staring at the hole in shock.
She heard groan behind her, and turned to look. A med team came past her, a door slid open in a far corner of the room, and several Minbari, carrying stretchers, came in slowly. She watched in silence, as the grey-robed figures stood back, and the med team straightened out her parents, put a brace on her mother's neck, set a wrap around her father's arm and chest, lifted them onto the stretchers, and carried them towards the far door. Numbly, still holding her arms tightly across her chest, she stumbled past a piece of twisted door and walked through the cluster of grey-robed figures standing silently in the room. They backed away to let her pass. She walked through them, and followed her parents towards the door.
As she turned away, the crumpled body lay at the edge of her vision, back, in the darkness. She kept walking.
Dracann cried out, dragging himself up to a sitting position.
Kaylenn pulled her eyes away from the departing medical team, frowned.
"Wait—" Dracann did not know how to address her; he put out a hand towards her. "Young one," he said hesitantly. "Help—there is—" he winced, coughed, pressed a hand gingerly to his throat. The red-haired girl stopped, turned towards him. He felt a moment of fear as he caught sight of her eyes. He swallowed. "Still danger—death to us all—"
Shalimar neared him, frowning. He tried to rise, but a spasm shot through his side, and he fell back. Two acolytes ran to help him, but he waved them away with one hand. The girl had stopped moving, and was standing still as a statue, her eyes black.
"No, listen, please—he left me a message," he rasped. "I—did not want to believe; did not think—"
"What is it, in Valen's name?!" demanded Shalimar.
"A detonator," he coughed. "This ship will be blown to pieces—he set the timer, and reset it every five minutes. He said that we are not worthy to be Grey, and that the truth would be made known! I did not think—he kept clenching his fist, I thought he was just angry, but there is—look!"
He pointed, and they all turned towards the body lying against the wall. Kaylenn stood still, unable to turn her head and follow their gaze. She could only stare at the scrape across the old Minbari's throat, and at the finger he pointed past her, behind her. Fighting the rising bile in her throat, she swallowed hard, and took a hesitant step towards him. She knew what it was that he asked; it was a common psi ability among the Minbari telepaths, and some of the higher-rated humans. She had never before used it...but she had read of it.
"Where...is it?" She whispered to him. He tore his eyes away from the wall behind her and looked up. She saw fear in his face, and how quickly he looked away.
"I don't know."
A muffled cry of alarm came from behind her, and she finally turned, looking up, at the Satai standing over the body, holding up a small, damaged...fist-switch.
She had to, there was no time, and no one else. She threw herself back through the room, stumbling over her long robes as she climbed up through the rubble, grateful for the scrapes on her fingers, the reminder—she grabbed onto the roughest pieces, and pulled herself up, over the edge.
Shuddering, fighting against herself, she pulled the massive door in her mind open a sliver. A shiver ran through her as she realized how much easier it was to open that door than to close it. She strained to keep it just that sliver. Slowly, letting herself walk out into the Great Hall, feeling every crevice and carve and crack, every piece of metal and crystal, every turn of circuitry and ductwork, she heard a faint hum—a hum tiny and high-pitched, off-key from the great, throbbing hum of the engines. They were all around, watching her.
She threw herself across the Great Hall, then turned and wheeled around, ran down a far side corridor. She ran, sliding back every door she came to, moving the locks before she reached it, racing, racing. That tiny hum was growing louder. She spread out, opened the massive door in her mind another crack, and her mind crawled farther in—the hum grew louder. She ran deeper and deeper into smaller corridors, never meeting anyone. She ran, her hair streaming back, tears streaming back. One, last chance to do it, to protect them! She hadn't, she didn't, they were hurt, she hadn't known, hadn't come fast enough, should've been more aware, sobs choked back. Her mind felt along closer, like many tiny fingers, exploring every curve and pipe—the hum!
She found it, the floor! She dropped to her knees, flinging her robes back from her arms, grabbed at the air duct grating, pulled it out of the floor, flung it down. The hum! She saw it! The canister!
A thought interjected itself, and she pulled her hand back. Can't touch. Don't know—but can— She drove the massive door in her mind back, until the tiniest fingers were all that was left of the searching, and she pushed them, delicately, down into the canister, felt around.
Her experience with the Rangers had taught her some knowledge of explosion mechanics and the circuitry involved. This canister was a basic, though no less destructive, design. She reached inside with the tiny fingers, fighting a massive, barbed-wire wall of a pounding headache, as she strained to maintain the minute control. She nudged the wires apart, pulled the matter chambers back, and disabled all of the last connectors. The hum...stopped. She pulled back, pushed the door in her mind closed, sealed it, and collapsed.
"Mother!" she screamed. She sat upright, suddenly, sweating.
"Shh, shh," a nearby male voice said. Dr. Stephen Franklin's face came into view. He sat down on the edge of her bed. "Relax...your mother will be all right. She just has a concussion—"
"Dad!" Her heart was still pounding, the pain was so vivid.
"A broken arm; I set it. He should be fine in a week or so."
"Shh, don't talk. You need to rest." He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her gently back down to the pillow. "Just rest."
"But, I can't—Dad—"
"He's okay. They're in their bedroom, sleeping."
"Where, what time—"
"You're home, and it's about three in the morning. We came to get you all two hours ago, and you've been in a deep sleep the entire time. I was a little worried, Kaylenn. Your father won't tell me what happened up there. Frustrating."
Kaylenn frowned, swallowed, and turned her head away. After a long moment, Franklin nodded.
"Later, then," he said. He stood up. "Get your rest. I'll see to your cultures in the lab, and check up on...our other project. I'm leaving Atrier here to keep an eye on you all. He and Jason have been given firm instructions not to allow any of you out of the house until I'm satisfied that you're well-rested, and," he paused, gave her a stern look, "until I find out exactly what happened."
Kaylenn nodded, mutely. Franklin frowned, then gave her a parting smile and walked out of her room. The door remained open. She curled up on her side and stared at the space where he had been. The rag doll was still slumped against the wall.
Sheridan looked up from the book he held in his lap, saw Franklin standing in the doorway.
"Stephen. Come in."
Franklin walked into the room, eyeing his friend, who was sitting on one end of the sofa, reading. Sheridan's cast was in the sling across his shoulder, and he was holding the book open with his other hand, his legs folded in the lotus position. Aside from the sling, he looked fine.
"Why aren't you in bed?"
"I don't want to sleep."
Franklin gave him a look. Sheridan sighed.
"All right, look, I couldn't find a comfortable position, and I was afraid all my shifting around would wake her up."
Franklin smiled. "Promise me that you'll get some rest, John. You're exhausted."
"You don't have to remind me," Sheridan replied, his mouth turned up in a half-smile. He grimaced, twisted slightly on the sofa. "How's Kaylenn? Is she all right?"
"She's physically fine, as far as I can tell. She was worried about both of you, but I told her you were okay, and to get some sleep." Franklin cleared his throat.
"And...the rest?" Sheridan raised an eyebrow.
"Ah, she became very quiet. I'm having Atrier keep a close eye on her. Of course, it would help if you told me what happened. I'm trying to work with less than all of the information here, John."
"It's for her to tell, Stephen. Delenn asked me not to say anything, and Shalimar has sworn everyone to silence. When Kaylenn is comfortable, and feeling up to it, you can ask her. Honestly, I wouldn't know what to tell you, even if I could."
Franklin nodded, resigned. "Fine. I'm heading back. If you need anything, ask Atrier. And sleep. Sleep there, if you want to, John, but don't torture yourself and get all heroic on me. You need your rest."
"So do you."
"Touch." Franklin gave him a mock salute. "I'll be back in a few hours."
Franklin nodded, walked out slowly. He paused for a moment to watch Delenn, sleeping on the bed across the room. She was sleeping peacefully, horizontally. He finally turned away and went back down the hall.
Something caught his eye, and he stopped, looked around the corner into Kaylenn's room. He frowned, seeing her standing in front of her mirror, utterly silent. The look on her face was indecipherable. He met her eyes in the mirror, and she looked away.
"Kay?" He asked softly. She shook her head, looked back up at the mirror.
"Thank you, Dr. Franklin," she said, almost inaudibly. For some reason, he just nodded, then turned away. He didn't even try to ask her why. He walked past Tannier and Jason in the kitchen, left his medical supplies with Atrier, and went out to the waiting transport to go home. Half the night's sleep was already gone.
Two chapters of Twenty Thousand Leagues later, Sheridan heard a soft noise in the doorway, and he looked up. Seeing Kaylenn standing there, he slowly took off his glasses and looked at her. She met his eyes for a moment, and he nodded.
She walked in a few steps and sat down on the other end of the sofa. He continued watching her, as she sat and pulled one leg up, folding it underneath herself. She looked across the room towards Delenn, where she was asleep on the bed.
"How is she?"
He folded his glasses, laid them down to keep his place in the book.
"Resting. Stephen said that she'll be all right," he replied.
"Dad, I killed a man."
"I killed him, and I swore that I'd never do it again. I never thought that I could, I thought it was an accident. I was so wrong. I am wrong. Dad, what am I?"
Her voice didn't shake. It was just cold. As if examining a dead body and finding, with detached interest, why it died. Sheridan frowned.
"You don't have to answer that," she continued, her eyes still fixed on the bed across from them. "Because you don't know. You can tell me what happened all those years ago, but it won't answer the question." She turned her eyes to him, finally, and he saw that they were red-rimmed, tired eyes.
"I have to go, Dad."
At this, he started. "Go where?"
"I don't know, but I have an idea. I just know that I can't stay around all of you, not after what I've done."
"No." She said, the tone of her voice cutting him off. "I am a threat, I don't know—I'm afraid," her voice broke. "I don't know what I am, and I don't know how to control—! Dad, you didn't see, how I just, I didn't even have to try hard!"
He started to reach towards her, but she turned away, turned up her chin.
"N-no. I have to go. I can't stay here. Tell Mother I love her—" she wrenched herself up from the sofa, still facing the far side of the room. "Tell David, I—" She stopped, swallowed back a lump. She pulled herself back under control, took in a deep breath.
"Don't tell me how I'm not thinking this through, or how I shouldn't rush off in a flood of emotions. I know all that, Dad."
Sheridan held his peace. There was no use in trying to convince her otherwise when she knew what he was going to say before he did.
"Take care of yourself, then, little one," he said softly. She finally turned to face him, pulling herself up straight.
"I will, Dad." She swallowed, licked her lips. "Tell David that I love him."
"You should tell him yourself."
"I can't, not right now."
"When will you come back?"
A pained look crossed her face. She met his eyes for a long moment.
"In time for what?"
"Rest, Dad, and take care of Mom. I'll be back in time."
She started to turn away, but he reached out a hand to her.
She turned back to him. He looked at her, and she saw pride in his eyes. She was stunned by the strength of it. How could he be proud of her, what she was?
She reached out and touched his hand, and he smiled.
"May God be with you," he said, and she smiled, barely, finishing the blessing with him:
"—in all the lonely places you must walk."
"Bye, Dad," she let go, seeing tears in his eyes. Turning slowly, she stopped to look at her mother's form on the bed.
"Bye, Mom," she whispered, started to turn away.
"Go in peace, be'en Veni." Kaylenn heard the whispered words from the bed, and she was suddenly possessed by the need to rush to her mother's side and cry in her arms. She restrained herself, knowing that she had to go now, or she would not leave at all.
Swallowing hard, she turned away from her parents, feeling their eyes burning on her back. She walked out, sliding the door shut behind herself. She went to her room, gathered her things, and went out in silence.
No one outside noticed when she left.
Sheridan sat for a long while in silence, looking at the closed door to their room, wondering when his daughter would be back. He took in a deep breath, let it out.
"She must find her own path," Delenn said.
"I know," he replied, looking down at the book in his lap, now closed. He slid the glasses out of their place between the pages and set them on the desktop beside him. He laid the book down next to them.
With a grimace and a moan, he pulled himself up from the sofa and stretched. He stood for a long moment, looking at his wife on the bed, her eyes liquid from sleep, her hair spread out on the pillow behind her. She was beautiful, and so he smiled.
She smiled, too, and moved her hand out to rest on his empty place on the bed. He came over the few steps between them and sank down slowly, carefully, with his arm bound to his chest. She moved slowly, careful for the bandage across the side of her head.
"A couple of old diehards, aren't we?" He said, grimacing from the aches and bruises he encountered, as he tried to find a comfortable position.
"No," she replied, still with that tiny smile on her face. "I think we've gotten better with age."
She moved closer to him, and settled her head into the hollow of his shoulder. A comfortable place for her for so many years. He let his good arm circle around her and he rested his hand on her shoulder, closed his eyes.
"I was wondering, though, what she meant," he said.
"When she said, 'in time'."
"I think...I think that we know what she meant, John."
He sighed, and she ran her fingers along the back of his hand, the one poking out from the sling across his chest.
"You know, I was also thinking..."
"Yes? You've been doing much of that, lately. All this thinking, and wondering."
"I was thinking about something. Something I've wanted to ask you."
"What is it?"
"I don't know how to say it the right way..."
Her fingers ran along his knuckles. "Try."
"Mm. All right." He paused for a moment. "This evening, when we came into the Great Hall, I was remembering the last time that I had been there."
He felt her fingers pause for the briefest of moments, and then continue their motions across his hand.
"And I remembered seeing all of the Grey Council members, standing there, angry. The guards had beaten us, and there was one, in particular, that seemed to enjoy it more. When Stephen, G'Kar, and I were dragged into the Hall, I remember seeing one hooded figure standing in the center. The figure let me speak, and stopped the guard from killing me with that final blow."
Her fingers had stopped. He took a deep breath.
"When I heard your voice tonight, and saw Shalimar standing in front of us, I thought—"
"That figure was you."
"Yes." Her voice was low, and quiet. He was silent for a long while. Then he opened his eyes, smiled.
"I remember the first time you came into the League Chamber, in that white dress, Lennier behind you. You pulled your cowl back—I could've sworn that my jaw hit the floor," he laughed. "And you said something, I don't even remember what, because at that point I was struck by the strangest feeling that we had met before, that I knew you, and that I could trust you with my life."
"You were very different from what I remembered," she replied, laughing softly. "I think the only reason that I, too, did not have my jaw drop to the floor was that I was trying so hard not to laugh."
"At me?" he asked, affronted.
"Oh no, no," she replied, smiling against his chest. "You all seemed to be frozen in shock. I have never before or since seen G'Kar and Londo shocked into silence together. You—my reaction to you was so unexpected. I felt sure that the entire room saw it."
"Nope, never knew," he said, then frowned. "What reaction?"
She gave a little laugh.
"C'mon," he said.
"No, I can not tell you."
"You would laugh at me."
"No, I wouldn't laugh. You know I wouldn't laugh."
"I know no such thing, John Sheridan."
"Please? I just confessed my deepest thoughts to you. It's only fair that you return the favor," he said, smiling. After a moment, she sighed, and gave in, and he felt her smile.
"When I had first heard that you were made commander of the station, I was very upset. Lennier told me, as soon as Stephen said I was well enough to go back to my duties. You were the last person that I wanted to take Jeffrey's place. However, I was determined to be civil, and Lennier—well, he was a great encouragement. I remembered back to that day in the Great Hall, and I remembered how you were shouting even though you had been beaten. I decided that even though you were hated, you still stood up, fearless." She paused. "To be truthful, I may have been a little afraid of you."
"May have been?"
"Oh, you know, all of the fear of meeting the Starkiller, and knowing that you fought, even though you faced death. I was afraid that you would recognize me for what I was—not even Lennier knew, then." She laughed, unexpectedly. "So imagine my surprise when I saw you—it was so silly of me, I know, but for some reason I was expecting you to look the way you had so long before. Of course, you were older, calmer, you looked quite pleasing in your dress uniform, and you took me quite by surprise."
"It was mutual, then," he said.
"Well, I feel better now. From that point of view, I feel like I made less of an idiot of myself."
"Oh no what?"
"Well, I wasn't the one with my mouth on the floor."
"Your jaw on the floor."
He smiled and leaned his head forward to kiss her hair. They laid there, silent, for a while.
"Do you think Kaylenn will find what she's looking for?" he finally asked.
"I know that she will not stop looking until she finds it."
"She will be all right, John. She can take care of herself."
"That's exactly what I'm afraid of."
"Don't worry. Let's rest."
"Did I say thank-you?"
"For saving my life in so many ways."
"Oh," she squeezed him, and he held her close. "Thank you. I love you."
He yawned, caught himself. "Oh, sorry, sorry."
"You are tired."
"Yes, but not too tired to say that I love you, too."
"In a very short while, both of our children will come back, safe," she said quietly.
"I have a feeling that there will be others who come back with them."
"Let's rest, now."
"Mmm," he replied.
And they went to sleep.
On a small transport, just clearing the outer atmosphere of Minbar, Kaylenn flew into the night.
Continued in Moments Still...
Copyright 1998 Rachel Smith Cobleigh
I welcome all feedback, including critique and suggestions for improvement, so feel free to tell me what you think, and thanks for reading!
I would like to thank whoever it was (someone who wrote a piece for the John & Delenn Storybook) for the name "Kaylenn". I'm sorry, I couldn't find your name, but I know you're out there. :)
Gratia to: the Lord, the Keeper of my Heart and the whole reason I'm writing in the first place; Josh, for a) introducing me to Babylon 5, b) being the one who was an invaluable help throughout—sorry I kept torturing you with unfinished pieces :), and c) for being the best friend I could ask for; to J. Michael Straczynski, of course, for creating this universe; to Bruce Boxleitner and Mira Furlan, who gave life to these characters and made watching a whole lot of fun; and to my own father, who, without knowing it, has been inspiration for so much.
I do not own any Babylon 5 properties, nor do I make any money from the writing of this story.
Situation and characters are taken from the television program "Babylon 5" (1993 - 1998) and are the creations and property of J. Michael Straczynski, TNT, Warner Bros., and Babylonian Productions.
This story is released under the GPL/CC BY: verbatim copying and distribution of this entire work are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided attribution is preserved.