The Pink Principle
Author's Note: Extremely loosely inspired by the 1974 British comedy No, Honestly, which starred John Alderton and Pauline Collins as C.D. and Clara Danby, and was based on the books by Charlotte Bingham.
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
Commander Ivanova checked the data pad she was carrying, trying to scroll down and double-check the agenda as she walked hurriedly towards the conference room. She was late, again. That business with the Lumati had really put her off her game. She still hadn't gotten over the embarrassment of resurrecting every pick-up line and cliche she'd ever heard of, even cheers from high school--all to fool that obnoxious, self-righteous, arrogant alien into believing he was having sex with her.
When she entered the conference chamber, a silence fell over the room. Glancing up from the screen, she saw that the members of the League who weren't looking away from her were smiling, or their variant of smiling. Even the pak'mara were sort of jiggling their facial tentacles. Resisting the impulse to check her uniform and make sure she'd buttoned everything correctly, she handed the pad to the Captain at the front table. Sheridan thanked her, and he began to examine the agenda, to which she'd added some notes on upcoming jumpgate repairs which would restrict traffic somewhat in the coming weeks. Looking discreetly around the room, she realized no one was meeting her eyes as her glance slid past. Then it hit her. Oh God, she thought, someone told them.
Cheeks flushed, she stood stiff and straight behind the Captain, ignoring the murmurs and chuckles that were sporadically breaking out. Londo was to her left, smiling and nodding, holding a glass of something up to her as if in salute. Past the Captain, to her right, she saw empty chairs. At least she wasn't the last person to arrive. Ambassador Delenn would undoubtedly be there. It was hard to tell with G'Kar, what with everything that was going on with the Narn. And nobody ever knew when Kosh would take it into his encountered-suited helmet to show up. Sheridan nodded to her, and she retreated to her position by the door. Delenn arrived just as the Captain was gaveling the meeting to order. She happened to be watching Sheridan as Delenn walked in the room, and she noticed that the Captain paused in his opening remarks. His official smile warmed and broadened, and his eyes lit up as he waited for the Minbari to take her seat. Delenn's eyes were downcast, ostensibly studying the agenda, but they kept sliding up to meet Sheridan's with a demure smile. It was downright suggestive, even sultry. Could Minbari even be sultry? Trying to keep her mouth from gaping open, Susan covertly looked back and forth between the two of them. As the meeting wore on, everything seemed to return to normal. She shook her head. It must be the after effects of dealing with the Lumati, she thought to herself; everything had sexual overtones right now.
When she got to the EuroBistro, she caught sight of Talia before her lunch companion saw her. That was no mean feat when the person you're meeting is a telepath. For a moment, she uneasily considered that perhaps her blocks were so high that Talia couldn't sense her approach. And that maybe that wasn't the best thing, since her rudimentary telepathy needed to be kept as secret as possible, and her blocks were pretty good for a normal. When Talia noticed her, and beamed in welcome, she forgot about her momentary worries, and smiled back at her friend, pulling out a chair and taking a seat. A waiter came over, and they ordered; salad for Susan, a fruit plate for Talia. The salad and fruit at least were real; grown right here in Hydroponics, and sold at a profit to the local restaurants. The endless cycle of nature...she tried not to think about where they got the water for the gardens.
"So, how did the meeting go? Were there any...negotiations?"
Susan almost choked at the tone of Talia's question. Good lord, did everyone know about her misadventure? "It was the usual stuff. Complaints, criticisms, check-lists, and currying of favor. I could write the script most days. Hell, I do write it often enough." She looked suspiciously at Talia, who was quite obviously biting the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. It made an attractive dimple there, Susan noticed.
"Did you give a report of the treaty you negotiated with the new aliens? What were they called again?"
Talia's eyes were wide and innocent, and as blue as a summer sky.
"What have you heard?" Susan asked in resignation. It would probably be better to get this out in the open. The rumour mill would make things out to be ten times worse than they had actually been.
"Not much," Talia replied. "People are talking, but no one seems to know anything. Which is par for the course, I suppose." She put down her fork, and touched Susan's hand, which was clenched into a fist around her fork. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"You didn't." Susan flashed a reassuring smile. "It's just been a hard day." Sighing as she examined her lunch, she went on, "And it's going to be a long one."
Talia nodded sympathetically, and picked up her fork. Before she could raise the strawberry on the end of it to her lips, she said, "Oh look! There's Captain Sheridan, with Ambassador Delenn."
Susan tried to turn her head around unobtrusively. The Captain was strolling through the Zocalo, chatting with the Ambassador. His attitude was completely engaged, even enthralled, as well as protective. At one point, he took the Minbari's arm to steer her around a pushcart being shifted to a new location, and the look he received in return made Susan's eyebrows shift to a new location as well.
"They seem to be getting along nicely," remarked Talia. Pointing her now-empty fork at the two of them, she added, "If I didn't know better, I'd say they were an item."
Susan looked at her in consternation. She wondered if the Captain and Delenn's 'relationship', if that's what it was, was becoming obvious to everyone.
Talia made an astonished face, then laughed, "You're kidding. Really?" Craning her head to get a better look, she said, "Maybe you're right. Sometimes I regret the Corps ethical code. It would be fascinating to peek into their minds right now..." Susan's face turned stormy, and Talia added hurriedly, "Not that I would. But..." She smiled at Susan mischievously, "Wouldn't you like to know what they're thinking?"
At that, Susan had to smile, through lips so tight it hurt. It was always dicey between them when Talia casually referenced her telepathy or her connection with PsiCorps. Trying to remain calm, and civil, she responded, "Okay, you've got me there. I would. Not for the entertainment value, mind you. If we're right, this could have major repercussions. I hope they know what they're doing."
"Probably not," replied Talia, picking up another strawberry. She added, her voice a little dreamy, "Does anyone know what they're doing at that early cotton candy stage of a relationship?"
"Cotton candy?" replied Susan, confused but alarmingly interested.
"Pink. You know, when you see that certain someone, and everything goes...pink." Talia met Susan's eyes and for a moment they just stared at each other. Then the alarm on Susan's link sounded.
"Damn, I've got to be somewhere." She pulled out her credit chit, but Talia waved it away.
"I'll get this. Do you want the rest packed to take with you?" Talia asked.
Susan shook her head. "No time. I'll pick up something later. Thanks for lunch, and the conversation." As she hurried off, she muttered to herself, "Pink. What am I getting myself into?"
That evening, there was a formal diplomatic reception. Susan circled the room, nodding and smiling, exchanging the occasional greeting with ambassadors, aides, and representatives. A few were still giving her knowing looks, which would have infuriated her if she hadn't been so tired. She hid a yawn behind her hand, and snagged a glass of something that at least looked to be alcoholic from a tray borne by a circulating waiter. Her dress uniform itched for some reason; it had recently come back from the station laundry. Maybe the vibe cleaning process was utilizing some new chemical. She'd have to check; she spent enough hours in her uniforms; they needed to be comfortable.
Leaning on one of the small tables set up for people to park their plates and glasses while they ate, Susan took a moment to close her eyes and rub her temples. A headache was building, as all the tension of the day was settling in on either side of her head. All she wanted to do was go home, and get out of her clothes.
"Hey, are you all right?"
She looked up to see Captain Sheridan gazing at her with concern. She hoped she hadn't expressed that last wish out loud. "I'm fine. Just a little headache."
"Oh. Well, this won't last much longer. The speeches are about to start. Ambassador Vizak assured me that Drazi speeches are short and to the point." The Captain put down his water glass beside Susan's wine glass. The table wobbled under the weight of his hand.
Susan laughed hollowly. "Unfortunately Drazi speeches are also very, very loud."
He looked at her carefully. "If it's that bad, you should go on back to your quarters. I'll stay and fly the flag for EarthGov."
"I might just do that. It's been a very long day." Susan moved her hands to the back of her neck attempting to dislodge the pain that had re-positioned and resumed firing. It was like targeting a flyer with a very effective evasive maneuvering program.
The Captain's voice was uncharacteristically tentative, and Susan's inner alert system sounded.
"I just wanted to reiterate that you did very well with the Lumati situation. It was a difficult assignment, and you handled it competently. Perhaps not by the book, but it was creative, it accomplished our goals, and no harm was done."
She looked at him silently for a moment. He was smiling, but his expression was still serious. "No harm?" she finally said with some despair. "I'm not so sure about that."
Sheridan sighed, "I suppose you're referring to the reaction of the others. It'll blow over. They'll find something else to discuss soon enough. And you've got nothing to be ashamed of; you were just doing your job."
Susan nodded, but she wasn't sure Sheridan had even seen her acknowledgement. His eyes were now fastened on Ambassador Delenn, who had entered the room with the ever-faithful Lennier at her heels. If the Captain wasn't careful, the station gossips would have something much more interesting to discuss. "I think I will call it a night, Captain. Thank you."
"What..?" he replied absently. "Oh, of course. Good night, Susan. I'll see you tomorrow."
Susan shook her head as she edged her way through the crowd to the door. The Captain had been buttonholed by the Drazi ambassador's aide. Even from a distance she could hear it was something to do with protocol and the proper way to introduce Vizak before his speech. Normally that would be her job, to deal with the ins and outs of accommodating the ambassador, but not tonight. As she finally reached the door to the Fresh Aire's private room, she heard her name called.
She almost groaned aloud; she'd been that close to at least part of an evening alone with a drink and her book. Turning her head, she saw Delenn approaching. Lennier had disappeared into the crowd.
"What can I do for you, Ambassador?" Susan braced herself for a request that would delay her down time. She also fought the impulse to scratch under her collar. God knows what people would make of that, with an edge of bitter resignation. They'd probably think it was some sort of human come-on, or a rash resulting from too-close proximity to a Lumati.
Delenn smiled at her. "I wanted to congratulate you on your people's treaty with the Lumati. It is good to enroll new races in the cause of peace."
Susan looked hard at Delenn, but could see no evidence this was anything but a guileless remark. Still, Delenn was pretty good at hiding her feelings, and her intentions. Raising one eyebrow, and keeping her tone light, she said, "The Minbari hadn't had contact with the Lumati before? I though your people had been everywhere and seen everything."
Delenn laughed at that. "We are not omniscient, or even omnipresent. Before our unfortunate first encounter with your own people, we largely kept within the borders of our Federation. We had encountered the Lumati's ships on deep space missions, even located their homeworld, but had never spoken with them. There seemed to be no advantage either in trade or treaty. So we left them alone, as they left us alone."
"I see." Susan wondered where this was going. Delenn wanted something. This wouldn't be easy or quick, and she saws her plans for a swift uncomplicated exit fading.
"I was wondering if you might tell me how you found negotiating with the Lumati? My government has been approached by theirs, and it may become necessary for me to deal with them." Delenn hesitated, then went on, "I did ask Lennier to research your dealings with them, but he came back very confused by the reports he had gathered. I was hoping you could shed some light on the matter." She added as an afterthought, and with a slight frown, "For some reason Lennier was reluctant to discuss his findings with me."
Susan stared at the Minbari in despair. How on Earth could she get out of this? It was not a subject she wanted to discuss with Delenn, at a party, or any other place. It had been bad enough making her report to Sheridan. Looking around the room for inspiration, she saw that the Captain was closely observing the two of them. Well, it the truth be told, he wasn't looking at her, at least she hoped he wasn't; not with that particular kind of look. "Well, Delenn, Captain Sheridan is here, and he..." she began ambiguously, hoping inspiration would strike.
The Minbari ambassador's head immediately swivelled to scan the room, quickly catching sight of the Captain, who was looking right at her. Susan sighed; now the Captain had a goofy schoolboy smile and Delenn's cheeks were flushing a becoming shade of pink. Pink again; the blasted color was following her around. It struck her that the whole day had been an exercise in puerility, if not futility. An idea occurred to her; one that was probably unwise, but she'd had just about enough of today, and...oh, what the hell. "Delenn," she began, patiently waiting until the ambassador stopped her unspoken communication across the banquet room and returned her attention to Susan, and the matter at hand. "The thing is, the negotiations were private ones with EarthGov. I don't think I can talk about them freely. The Captain would be the one to ask; he can make the decision to fully inform you or not. It's really above my paygrade."
"Thank you, Commander. I will do that." Delenn bowed, and made a beeline across the room towards Sheridan, who made no visible effort to escape.
Susan smiled a satisfied smile. There, she'd gotten out of the explanation, reclaimed her free evening, and given the Captain and Delenn a push. Part of her wanted to stay and watch the expression on Sheridan's face when Delenn asked him about the Lumati 'style' of sealing a bargain. Part of her wanted to get out of there before he found out she'd pointed Delenn in his direction. The second course of action seemed more rational, so she left the room as quickly as possible. As she cruised through the mostly empty corridors on her way to her quarters, she wondered how it would work out. Perhaps the Captain would give Delenn a demonstration, right there in the banquet room. Or perhaps he'd shelve the public explanation in favor of a later, more intimate lecture on the details of 'human style'. It could be considered a cultural exchange. The Minbari probably had a ritual for it. At that thought she started giggling, then laughing out loud. The few people still about gave her a wide berth as she staggered towards home. Once inside, she finally managed to control the images dancing in her head with a splash of cold water, which also helped her still-throbbing head. As she dried off her face with a burgundy hand towel, she wondered what Talia was doing this time of night. She'd love to tell her friend about the reception, although it probably wouldn't be a good idea to tell her everything. Looking into the mirror, she saw her cheeks were still flushed with laughter. Pink, she thought, as the giggles rose up again.