The Unbroken Circle
Title taken from the hymn 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken?', lyrics by Ada Habershon and music by Charles Gabriel, sung by various artists over the years. The version I know is by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
Vir Cotto, aide to the Centauri ambassador, his most Honorable Excellency Londo Mollari, was indulging in one of his favorite activities. He was cruising the pushcarts in a slightly rundown area of bazaar in Brown Sector; taking his time, poking into every corner and examining each pile of slightly worn merchandise. There was a number of merchants, of various species, selling all manner of items, some legal and some illegal. It was completely different every time he came. Vir loved the slight aura of risk that accompanied his visits here. His position as ambassadorial aide had its moments, but was mostly composed of prosaic bureacratic duties. Wandering this seedy area on his own gave him great pleasure, and he liked to think that he was flirting with danger.
One of his favorite vendors was back today--a Markab who specialized in small electronics from several different worlds. Vir was aware that some of the goods were possibly stolen, but most he believed were honestly traded, for cash or credit chips. He was slowly digging through a tray of miniaturized cameras; some could be fixed to a finger tip, so you could take a picture of someone as you waved good-bye. Vir kept a journal, in code, and had often thought pictures would add to the record of his time on Babylon Five. A small silver cylinder caught his eye, and as he picked it up the Markab nodded sagely.
"You have excellent taste, Ser. That is a human piece, a voice recorder only however. It does not have the capacity to record images."
Vir turned the small device over and over in his stubby fingers. His touch was unexpectedly delicate, and he examined the tiny device closely. It had only a few recessed buttons, and a slide control, presumably for volume. "How much?" he asked diffidently. He wasn't terribly interested, but it occurred to him that if he could record meetings at times, his transcripts might be more accurate. The computer records were sometimes hard to decipher, especially when everyone spoke at once, or voices were raised. That happened at least once a week. "Does it record surrounding sounds, or only the voice closest to the input area?"
"I believe it can be set to record only the closest voice, or those in the room where it is placed." The Markab took the device and pointed out the various controls. "Only twenty credits, Ser. Just for you."
"Twenty!" Vir laughed incredulously, "Ten and not a credit more! It's obviously used. I'll have to wipe the recordings on it before I can even use it! And who knows how much power is left, and whether it can be recharged?"
"Ten then." The Markab held out his hand. "You drive a hard bargain as ever, Ser. I thank you for your custom."
Vir handed over the credits, and pocketed the device. He was going to be late getting back to Londo, and if his superior took it in his head to do so, he could cancel Vir's plans for the evening. Not that they were extensive plans, but his limited amount of free time was important to him.
Once he reached Londo's quarters, he found the ambassador yet again in a state of high dudgeon over some perceived slight he had received from Ambassador G'Kar. Vir sighed inwardly; for a Centauri who professed to have no liking or little sympathy for the Narn race in general, Londo spent a great deal of time blustering over what G'Kar said or didn't say to him in conference. He turned the small cylinder over and over in his hand, absently toying with the device. At some point in his maneuverings, he tripped the play button and an anguished voice began to speak.
"I don't know if this will get to you, Mary. I'm tired. Lord knows I'm tired. Don't know who to turn to...who to trust..."
Vir bobbled the recorder as he hurriedly tried to shut it off, but it was too late.
"Vir? Are you paying attention to this--I need you to draft a letter in response to this outrage!" He walked over and snatched the small device from his aide. Holding it up to his eye, he shook it, then set it down on the table next to Vir's datapad. Gesturing at the pad, he said, "You need to take notes, not listen to those little audiopod stories the humans put out for the entertainment of children and the feeble-minded!"
"It's not a drama," protested Vir. "It's a recording device. I just bought it," here his voice began to speed up in excitement, "it's really quite clever. The humans are experts at these things; small and functional...that must have been the last recording before it was sold." Without heeding the look on Londo's face, he played the brief and plaintive message again. Shutting it off when it was apparent that the recording had broken off mid-sentence, he remarked thoughtfully, "He sounds so sad. I wonder who he is...who Mary is...? I wonder if I should try to get this message to her?"
Londo made a noise somewhere between exasperation and disgust. "Does it matter?" He stalked about the room, one hand jammed into his lower back, the fingers clenched into a hard fist. Wagging a finger at Vir, he went on, "You spend too much time worrying about other people, Vir! You are here to serve the Emperor, the Centauri Republic, and me! Now put that thing away, and get ready to take this down...no, first, get me a drink. Your pathetic maunderings about this unknown human and his female have given me a headache." He stared at Vir, who was still sitting on the small settee. Making a dismissive gesture, he indicated the kitchen area. "I am sure the human is fine...perhaps he was selling his possessions in order to purchase a ticket home." When he got no response to his overture, he barked, "A drink, I said!"
Vir hurried to the bar, and poured a glass of something; he didn't look too closely. Londo took it with a grunt, and Vir went back to his notes, ready to take down the irate message to G'Kar, and possibly to Sheridan and the rest of the Council, that he knew was forthcoming. He picked up the recorder and stuck it in his jacket pocket, not wanting it around to remind Londo of his latest grievance. Sighing, he awaited the pleasure of his employer, and hoped he would be able to get away in time to meet Lennier.
Lennier was waiting for Vir at their usual meeting place. It had become a tradition of late; that they would meet here, exchange a few words at the end of the week. Each understood that the other would only come if they could get away. Both had extensive duties, and in their positions, could hardly call their time their own. It had started casually. Vir had been drinking something, sitting alone, muttering softly to himself, when Lennier had stopped and asked the bartender for a glass of water. There was the expected exchange of greetings, and it might have stopped there, except for Vir's suddenly asking him a question.
"Do you ever get the feeling that Delenn is keeping something from you?"
Lennier had stared for a moment, not comprehending the reason for, or the anxiety behind, Vir's question. After thanking the bartender, who had placed the glass in front of him and waved off his effort to pay, Lennier took a sip of water and considered his answer carefully. "I would have to say 'yes', and add, 'of course'. Delenn has no need to share information with me, beyond that which is necessary for me to complete the tasks she sets me."
Vir shook his head, and looked back into his drink, a frothy pink concoction. "That's not what I mean. Not exactly." He looked at Lennier closely, then blurted out. "I just feel like decisions are being made, for me, in my name and that of all the Centauri, that I don't agree with. It's my duty to support Londo, to assist him whatever he does, but it...there are times..." Vir sputtered to a stop, but looked at Lennier as if imploring him to understand.
Lennier had understood. He could no longer remember exactly what he answered, but the feeling of empathy that had shot through him had stayed with him. The next time he had seen Vir at that establishment, he had stopped, and exchanged a few words with the Centauri. Eventually it had become something of a ritual for the both of them. Lennier looked forward to it. He found it unexpectedly comforting.
This evening Vir was late, and Lennier had finished his drink and was about to leave when his friend arrived, puffing with his effort to hurry.
"I am so sorry, Lennier, Londo kept me a little late tonight. I suppose he was entitled. He gave me the afternoon off today as well. I don't know what's come over him lately." Vir had bustled into his seat and place his order as he spoke. "I can't stay long. I have correspondence to finish up, and there are the reports from this morning's conferences to record."
Lennier nodded. "It seems you are busy. I have to get back as well. Perhaps next week we will have more time."
Vir had pulled a small silver cylinder out of his jacket pocket while hunting for his identicard to hand the bartender. He placed it on the counter, where it rolled to the edge before Lennier reached out and stopped it falling to the floor. He held it out to Vir, who shook his head and said, "I don't want it any more. It's not worth the trouble."
Lennier looked at the device in his hand and asked, "It is a recording device, if I am correct. Human manufacture? It looks well-made. Is it non-functional?" He looked at it carefully, turning it over to examine it from all angles. "Perhaps I can assist in its repair. I have some experience with these matters." He looked at Vir who was shaking his head.
"It works, I just don't want it." The Centauri smiled, and said, "Take it. Maybe it will bring you better luck that it brought me, or its former owner for that matter." He slurped down his drink, then stared at the screen behind the bar which was showing the ISN feed, and had the time stamp in the lower right corner. "Is that the time?" He stood, and bowed his head briefly to Lennier. "I'll see you next week."
Lennier stood and bowed his farewell in return. Pocketing the recorder, he left for his meeting with Delenn.
When Lennier got to Delenn's quarters she was already deep in answering correspondence. It took a great deal of time to answer all the requests that came to her attention as ambassador; from Minbari on the station, from Minbari arriving or departing, and from representatives of other races that had dealings with the Minbari. She normally used a handheld recorder, one that transcribed her words into text on the comscreen, to speed up the process. As Lennier sat next to her, and started sorting through the papers that she had not gotten to yet, he heard a crackle and pop from her recording device.
Delenn dropped it suddenly and exclaimed in surprise, "It shocked me. That has never happened before."
Lennier picked up the cylinder and observing the black scoring on one side, said, "I believe there has been some sort of electrical surge. This will no longer be of use to you. I can replace it in the morning."
Then he remembered Vir's gift. "Actually, I have a recorder with me. Would you care to make use of it until another one is obtained?" He pulled it out of an inner pocket of his tunic, and as he did so, he accidentally hit the play button. A thin tired voice filled the room.
"I don't know if this will get to you, Mary. I'm tired. Lord knows I'm tired. Don't know who to turn to...who to trust..."
Lennier switched off the recording and stared at the device.
Delenn asked curiously, "Who was that, and who is Mary? Where did you get this recorder? Did you purchase it second-hand?"
"Vir Cotto gave it to me," Lennier answered.
"But why would Vir Cotto make you a gift of such a thing?" Delenn had laid down the paper she had been holding, and was examining Lennier closely.
"Because I admired it. And because he is my friend." Lennier responded definitely, but his own words surprised him. Somehow he had never realized that Vir was his friend, but it was true. "He said something about a former owner. He must have purchased it from someone."
"It was a human voice," remarked Delenn. "The man sounded as if he were in complete despair." Her voice filled with sympathy, "As if he were terribly alone." Delenn stopped, as if suddenly struck by a thought. "Lennier, are you ever lonely here? There are few of your clan on the station."
Lennier shook his head. "No. There is much here to occupy my mind, and my time. As I told you before, I am pledged to your side. It is my purpose to serve you." He noticed that her hands were clasped tightly together now; evidence of some inner turmoil.
"And I appreciate that you feel that is the calling of your heart. I just wish you to remain open to other possibilities. As your friendship with Vir Cotto was unexpected; the potential for other relationships may occur during your time here. And eventually, if the Universe allows, you will return to Minbar."
"As will you, Delenn," he answered, trying to assuage whatever fears were assailing her.
She smiled at him briefly, and replied, "That remains to be seen. Events are in motion that may affect my future, and that of many others."
Her face had that look of weary sadness and apprehension that he hated to see. It often occurred when she spoke of prophecy, and of the Great War that was to come. "Whatever happens, you may be assured that I will be here."
She shook her head, "Perhaps the human whose voice we heard thought the same of the Mary of which he spoke. Yet it seems they were separated after all. We can never know the end of our own story. Still, at least there was one person he could reach out to...that he knew cared about his fate."
"There are many who care about you, Delenn." His tongue was thick in his mouth, and he couldn't continue speaking. At times like this, the depth of his feelings became both intense, and frightening.
"That may or may not be true," she spoke lightly, but with an undercurrent of some emotion he could not identify. She added softly, "Sometimes one person is enough. If it is the right person."
Lennier sat mutely, still holding the recorder out to her. The shifting currents around him were confusing; there were times he did not understand her. At other times, he thought he was the only one who did.
"I am tired, Lennier. Take the notes I have recorded and check the references before sending them on. I will finish the rest in the morning." She stood, and he followed, gathering up the paper and discs in his hands. The recorder he dropped into his pocket with a few data crystals. "When you are finished, take the rest of the evening for yourself. You deserve some time for your own pursuits."
He bowed, and watched as she returned the gesture. Leaving her quarters to return to his own solitary rooms, he wondered what he should do with his evening. He would have preferred to spend it working, with her.
The next morning there was a Council meeting. The three ambassadorial aides had gathered in the small anteroom adjacent to the main chamber. It was a place to wait when closed meetings were held, or to receive messages for the ambassadors and representatives. It was usually some combination of the three of them there. Insofar as anyone knew, Ambassador Kosh had no aide. Commander Ivanova had popped her head in, checking to see if they needed anything, but she had left to pursue her duties in C&C. The human was not really one of them, just as Captain Sheridan was not actually an ambassador for the Earth Federation. Lennier had studied the founding documents of the Babylon station, but he was still somewhat unsure of the station commander's function on the council. The Captain spoke for Earth, as had Commander Sinclair before him, and represented their interests. They had the right to vote as a founding Council member, but neither had the formal title or duties of an ambassador. Vir was sitting at the round central table, nursing a cup of jhalla, and Na'Toth stood erect against the wall just inside the door. The Narn always gave the impression that she was on guard.
Lennier had spent the prior evening in quiet meditation after he had finished his tasks. Early that morning, he had gone out and purchased a new recording device. He had both the new and old one with him, planning to turn over the replacement to Delenn when the meeting concluded. He was sitting across from Vir, comparing the two, when he heard Na'Toth's voice, just behind him, ask, "What is that device you are playing with, Lennier?"
She had reached out and snatched the new recorder from him, and began to twist it, as if hoping to open it by force.
"It is a personal recording device. It is used to take notes, record meetings or messages." Lennier watched her for a moment, then stood with his hand out. "Let me show you how it works."
She eyed him suspiciously, but handed the cylinder back to him. They sat next to each other at the table, and Lennier quickly pointed out the controls, showing her the minimal effort needed to manipulate them.
"Useful," she remarked at the end of the brief lesson. "It is of human manufacture, correct? They are very good at making these small specialized toys." Cocking her head and observing Lennier, she asked, " But why do you have two of them?"
Lennier had laid the two of them down, side by side. "One is a new purchase, meant to replace a defective unit of Delenn's. The other is one Vir gave to me; having no further use for it."
Na'Toth grunted. "I may have to look for one in the Zocalo. Mine is functional, but larger and more difficult to conceal." She corrected herself abruptly, "I mean, to carry. You never know when you might need to make a note of some observation for future use."
Her smile, the broad tooth-baring grimace of a Narn warrior, made Lennier shudder slightly, and Vir swallow a gulp of jhalla down the wrong way. As Lennier carefully patted Vir's back, he whispered to his friend, "Would you mind if I presented the recorder to Na'Toth? As much as I appreciate the thought behind your gift, she seems to have more need of it more than I do." Vir shook his head, his face red, and tears running down his face. When the Centauri's breathing had returned to normal, Lennier bowed to Na'Toth, and held out the small device to her.
"I would be pleased if you would accept this, Na'Toth. It is used, but it works perfectly." Lennier was gratified at Na'Toth's expression of pleasure. At least he assumed it was pleasure, and he was about to mention that he had not yet had time to erase the messages recorded by the previous owner, when the door to the inner chamber opened, and G'Kar and Londo erupted into the room, arguing vociferously. Vir and Na'Toth were swept up in their wake, and Lennier was left alone. In a way, it was a relief. The waiting area had become uncomfortable the further the Narn and the Centauri fell into the flames of war. Vir was not combative, and Na'Toth did not do more than glower, but it made for an unpleasant experience. He sighed and stood, then headed for the Council room to see if Delenn had need of him.
Na'Toth pocketed Lennier's gift, and followed G'Kar and Londo into the hallway, walking alongside Vir. At the end of the corridor, Londo signalled to Vir imperiously that he was to follow, and strode off towards the recreational area of the station. G'Kar glared after him, and Na'Toth awaited instruction.
"Come with me, Na'Toth. I need to pray and to think, and then perhaps to talk. Your presence is not required for the first two activities, but you could prove of some assistance with the last." G'Kar walked swiftly towards his quarters, hands clasped behind his back, head erect.
Na'Toth had no difficulty keeping up, but propriety and respect kept her two paces to the rear. In any case, from this position it would be easier to sight any potential attackers. When they reached G'Kar's quarters, he went into the interior room and shed his outer armor. Na'Toth realized he was settling in for another day of meditation and reflection. She seethed a bit, inwardly. Surely the time to act was coming near. It must come, and soon, or G'Kar would find it more and more difficult to control the Narns on board the station. Reports from homeworld and colony worlds alike spoke of savage unanticipated attacks and increasing hardships resulting from blockades. She was practicing the art of patience; an important ability for the warrior, but the larger strategy of her superior escaped her.
She watched as G'Kar lit candles, and removed the Book of G'Quan from its place of honor on his family altar. He carefully unswaddled the Book and laid it open on a low stone table. Then he knelt and began the opening prayers. Na'Toth was not particularly religious, and she sat quietly, trying not to shift position and disrupt the Ambassador's concentration. Feeling a small lump in the pocket located on the side of her left thigh, she tried to unobtrusively extricate the item. As her fingers met the slim metal cylinder, she remembered what it was, and she pulled it free, intending to pass the time examining the controls. As she tugged it loose of the fabric lining, she hit a button, and a shaky voice spilled out into the air.
"I don't know if this will get to you, Mary. I'm tired. Lord knows I'm tired. Don't know who to turn to...who to trust..."
She slammed the thing against the arm of her chair, hoping to silence it. The voice broke off, and she looked up to see G'Kar's red eyes, slitted in the dim candle-light, watching her silently.
"Who was that speaking?" he asked mildly.
"I have no idea," replied Na'Toth swiftly. "An unerased message on the machine. It is unimportant."
G'Kar unfolded his legs, and stood. He went over to a long table and poured himself a cup of water from a steel pitcher. Drops of condensation slid down the cold metal. He gestured towards Na'Toth with the pitcher, offering her refreshment. She shook her head, and he carefully placed the pitcher back down. He raised the goblet to his lips and drank. "Play it again," he said.
Na'Toth fumbled briefly with the recorder, but quickly located the playback button and pressed it. The brief message repeated, and was cut off at the same place.
G'Kar said no more, and Na'Toth felt compelled to fill the silence. "It is merely some human bemoaning his fate, Ambassador. He went on to sell this device, it was obviously not that important to him."
G'Kar sat down in a chair across from Na'Toth, and looked at her closely. He rested his elbows on the broad arms of the chair, and steepled his fingers in front of his face. "The human on this recording expresses the universal longing to be with family in times of stress. At least," here he assumed a professorial aspect, "I believe the Mary to whom he refers must be a close relative. Possibly she is his mate." He continued, thinking aloud, "This is one of the common attributes of all sentient races we have encountered." Making a face, he added, "With the possible exception of the Vorlons." He stood again, and began to pace about the room. "Some of the others do not seem to understand what we Narn are feeling at this time. What drives us. I need to find some way to make them see."
Na'Toth expostulated, "By revealing our inner thoughts? By parading our personal feelings in front of them? By presenting ourselves as victims, in need of rescue?" She picked up the recorder and enclosed it in her fist. "This human is not like us. He is not a warrior. His voice and his words reveal his weakness."
G'Kar shook his head. "I do not want their pity, Na'Toth. But their sympathy, their understanding...that might be of some help to us. It already has been, to a very small extent. It is a narrow path I need to tread, between petition and demand, in order to save our world."
Na'Toth pressed her lips together tightly. When G'Kar was in this mood, she felt she did not know him at all. The other ambassadors, the humans; there was no help to be found there. Still, when G'Kar held out his hand for the recorder, she obediently placed it in his open palm. He looked at it carefully.
"I will return this to Sheridan. Perhaps he can locate the owner. It will be a starting point, a point of common ground between us. We must learn to speak the language of trust; to speak of compassion as well as of strength." He tossed the cylinder in the air, and caught it as it fell back into his hand. Closing his fist on it, he added, "I must find a way to show them that we are not unlike." Observing Na'Toth's look of scornful disbelief, he smiled, and added gently, "I will show them that, at least in some ways, we are one."