From Time to Time
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
Quotations used at the end are by Alexander Pope (Susan's) and Louis Pasteur (Delenn's). Please don't ask why the Minbari have a traditional saying that originates from Louis Pasteur. Credit Valen if you must have an explanation.
Conversation between Sheridan and Ivanova, from the S2 episode A Distant Star:
"Ever had a long talk with Ambassador Delenn, Commander?"
"From time to time. Why?"
"She and the Universe seem to have a special relationship."
"Don't we all?"
Susan Ivanova limped disconsolately out of MedLab, her foot still in a cast that extended to just above her ankle. It was nearly invisible under the length of her standard uniform pants, and she had just managed to fit it back into her over sized boot. Dr. Franklin had advised her to requisition a half size larger footwear for the duration. Casts had shrunk now they were made of thin sheathes of polyplast, but they still added some bulk. She couldn't wait to get this thing off, and return to walking without a cane. At least she'd managed to accomplish her first diplomatic assignment, even if it felt like it was largely by accident. The Captain's pep talk hadn't been much help, and things could have gone badly if Garibaldi hadn't shown up. It was over now, at least for a few years, and she had some time to think about what to do the next time. She didn't see how she could deal with the Drazi when she could see no sense in their customs.
She slowly made her way down the corridor, then heard rapid steps behind her. Craning her head she saw that it was Ambassador Delenn. She looked about as happy as Susan felt, and was rapidly coming up directly behind her. Susan tried to pull over to the side, but she wasn't fast enough, and Delenn nudged her slightly as she edged past. Susan teetered for a moment, then caught her balance by putting one hand on the rail along the wall.
"I am so sorry, Lt. Commander!" Delenn stopped abruptly and put out a hand to steady the other woman. "And I must apologize again," she added as Susan leaned heavily on her cane, struggling to get her balance. "It is now Commander, is it not?"
Susan leaned back against the wall and took a firm grip on her cane, trying not to swear at the pain in her foot. "No need to apologize. I'm a hazard to navigation with this thing." She looked at Delenn carefully, noting the stormy expression on her face, and added, "Are you all right?"
Delenn nodded briefly, her lips tight, then said, "I have just come from MedLab. Dr. Franklin seems to be determined to keep an ongoing record of my transition. It has been one test or exam after another! I sometimes believe he would prefer I relocate to MedLab for the duration."
"He is very thorough," said Susan wincing a bit as her foot continued to throb. "He re-applied the cast a little tighter this time, and he never stopped smiling!" She added wryly, "I think he takes too much joy in his work."
Delenn smiled, and said, "In reparation for my clumsiness, may I accompany you to your destination? Perhaps I can be of assistance in warding off any other rapidly moving obstacles."
"Why not?" answered Susan. "I'm heading back to C&C. I've just been to check on the Drazi. They're being held in separate areas until we're absolutely sure they are all on the same team. Just as well, I wouldn't want to tackle them again."
Delenn looked at her quizzically. "Tackle them? Are you engaging in physical encounters with them? Is that how you were injured?"
"No," Susan laughed. "Well, not exactly. It's this green and purple thing...their version of elections, I suppose. They take sides and fight it out apparently..."
Delenn nodded, and interjected. "Yes, I know of this custom. It is a strange one, but I imagine all of us have customs that look just as odd to those of other races."
Susan agreed with the statement, but kept her own thoughts on the issue to herself. They soon reached the turbo-lift that would take Susan up to the Command dome.
Delenn said thoughtfully, "I have spoken to Ambassador Vizak about your solution to the problem. It was he who explained this ritual to me. I believe he is relieved at your intervention, although he would never admit it. As the representative of the Shadak on the station, traditionally he remains neutral during this conflict. Until you arranged for the fighting to stop, it was his duty to keep the official tally of victories and defeats on the station. "
Susan leaned back against the wall, and said, "So there is an explanation? The whole thing seems crazy. It's so arbitrary, and frankly, inefficient!" She looked at Delenn, and said, "Can you tell me? Or is it some kind of ambassadorial secret?"
Delenn shook her head, then paused to gather her thoughts. "It is a ritual steeped in history, and honors a Drazi warrior from a time long in the past, long before the Centauri occupied their homeworld, before they had even encountered other races. There were two sentient species that arose on the Drazi homeworld. The Drazi, and another called the Anan-drah Zi. They were a strong, cruel race. Eventually they conquered the Drazi, relegating them to second class status and later to slavery. They also used the Drazi in vicious competitions for purposes of amusement. Drazi warriors were trained from a young age and given special favors in return for their participation in public battles, often to the death. In order to make the games more interesting, the Anan-drah Zi would mix up the teams, setting them up randomly by requiring the warriors to picking colored sashes from a barrel on their way into the arena. This kept the warriors isolated, never fighting with the same group twice. It was supposed to make them stronger, more adaptable. It also prevented them from forming bonds with each other."
"That explains the green and purple, and the fighting, I suppose. But why hold onto a custom that was forced onto them?" Susan asked.
"There is a reason," said Delenn. Then she continued the story. "One of the warriors, a young male called Drozak, stood out from the others. He was stronger, swifter, and more combative than any warrior the Anan-drah Zi had ever seen. He was picked out of the group, and set to single combat. Over and over he fought, and defeated, every Drazi set against him. This allowed him to hone his skills. He learned much also from his close contact with the Anan-drah Zi. They taught him their peculiar standards of honor, and had high expectations of him. What they did not expect was what he did next."
"Which was?" asked Susan. She fought the impulse to check her link and the time. She was due back on duty any minute, but this might be important in the future, and besides, it was pretty interesting.
"He challenged them. Told them to pick a champion of their own kind, and he would fight for the freedom of his people." Delenn looked as if she was far away, lost in the story.
Susan whistled. "Did he win?" she asked with interest.
Delenn continued as if reciting a lesson, "He fought their champion to a standstill at first, but he was ultimately defeated. His courage and his defiance impressed their oppressors so much that they agreed to set the Drazi free, and allow them to migrate far from the Anan-drah Zi's cities, into the wilderness to build their own society on the dusty plains. They maintained that the Drazi were still under their authority, and told them to return in a hundred years and the Anan-drah Zi would determine whether they were worthy of ownership of the land they settled.""
"What happened next?" asked Susan. "Did they fight them, or buy their land from them?" Then, as the thought struck her, "Why haven't we seen any of this other race?"
Returning her focus to the present and to Susan, Delenn answered soberly, "When the Drazi returned to the cities, with tribute to buy their land, and arms in the event their tribute was not accepted, they found the Anan-drah Zi had disappeared. Their cities stood quiet, the roads clear, homes empty of possessions, but with lights still burning in them. The narrow streets and wide open balconies were deserted. Nothing but sand and wind remained. The Drazi never saw any of them again, but they live on in their legends and customs. That is why the Drazi hold their lands as a Freehold; for many years they awaited the return of their ancestral overlords with trepidation. They are a warlike people; I think perhaps this history of conquest has contributed to that."
A pair of worker caste Minbari walked by, and pushed the call button for the lift. Delenn bowed to them in recognition of their presence, and they returned the gesture, after a noticeable pause.
Susan noted the color flaring in Delenn's cheeks, but said nothing. It was surprising to see such disrespect in a Minbari, especially towards someone of Delenn's rank and status. It occurred to her that perhaps there was dissension over Delenn's transformation. Putting the thought aside to consider later, she asked, "So they've kept this method of electing leaders out of a tradition that is centuries old, and based on something they were forced to do when they were enslaved? I still think it's crazy."
Delenn smiled, "It can be difficult, at times, to understand the reasons behind another's actions. Still, one must respect their choices, even if one does not understand them."
The turbo-lift opened, and the two Minbari entered. After a moment, one of them spoke directly to Susan, "Do you wish us to hold this for you?"
"No, go ahead," replied Susan. After the door had shut, she said to Delenn. "Better company here, I think. I'll wait for the next one."
"I will wait with you until it arrives, " Delenn said. "My duties will still be there when I return." She sighed, then added, "Your solution to the problem of the Drazi leadership struggle was inventive, Commander. I congratulate you."
"It wasn't exactly a solution I'd worked out in advance. If I hadn't pulled the Green Leader's neck sash off, who knows what would have happened?" Susan shook her head, still feeling a little depressed.
Delenn said reprovingly, "You took action, then took advantage of the results of that action. I admire that in your people; that ability to react with flexibility to changing situations. I fear sometimes my own people have lost that skill."
Susan noted that Delenn's hand was toying with a strand of her hair, almost like she was nervous. "Not all of them," Susan said pointedly. The turbo-lift chimed again, and she took hold of her cane, and leaned forward, putting her weight on it. "That's my ride. Thanks for waiting with me, and for telling me about the Drazi. Sometimes I find it amazing how little we all know about each other."
"That is why we are here," replied Delenn simply.
Susan limped into the lift and smiled out at the Minbari woman. "We humans have a saying: 'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.' Complete and utter lack of knowledge is even more dangerous. I still say I got lucky."
"We must all, at times, take chances in order to learn," replied Delenn. "My people have a saying as well: 'Chance favors the prepared mind.' You were prepared, at the right time, to receive and utilize the knowledge the Universe provided you." Bowing in farewell, she added, "It was a pleasure, as always, to speak with you, Commander."
The doors closed on Susan as she replied, "And you, Ambassador."