A Meeting of Minds
"...in the look that passed between them, a Throne spoke to a Throne and a silent language sped between them which none else in the room could understand, and which none else might share.'
Angela Thirkell (High Rising)
Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.
"Damn." Captain Elizabeth Lochley sat back in the pilot's seat of the station shuttle, and toggled the comswitch off. They were stuck. "Delenn, I'm afraid..."
"I heard, Captain. I gather we are unable to return to the station immediately."
Delenn's voice was cool and collected. Lochley appreciated that; she still didn't know the woman well enough to anticipate her response. Another civilian might have panicked or complained. "I'm sure they'll get the problem sorted soon. President Sheridan has been notified..."
"That was unnecessary, Captain. But I thank you."
Lochley stared at the blinking lights on the console in front of her. There was nothing that needed doing. She'd put the shuttle in an orbit around Epsilon Three, after sending a message to the surface to allay any questions on the part of Draal, the keeper of the Great Machine. Naturally, he'd been monitoring their communications and knew all about their predicament already. She still wasn't sure how she felt about the enigmatic Minbari's custodial attitude toward her station. Delenn had accompanied her down to the planet to meet Draal; a necessary courtesy for the station's nearest neighbor, and some time protector. The estimate on repair to the docking system was approximately two hours. She'd told her people to have it done in one. Suppressing a sigh, she wondered whether it would be rude to pull up some systems reports to review while they waited out the repair. Probably it would be.
"Would you like to access the station computers? There are dual screens; I suppose you have work you need to do." Lochley punched a few buttons and the screen on her right lit up with the Babcom symbol.
"Of course. But I do not feel the need to fill my hours in that way. I shall meditate perhaps. There is much for me to think about."
Lochley was taken aback at the measured coldness in the Minbari woman's tone. They had never been what you would call friendly, but she respected the other woman, and Delenn had never been anything other than professionally courteous in return. Perhaps this was left over animus from the incident with Tulann and the Rangers? She wouldn't have thought that Delenn would hold onto that. As she continued scrolling through the reports on water purification and recovery rates, it suddenly occurred to her that Delenn knew. She'd found out somehow. Garibaldi! she fumed momentarily. But that didn't feel right. Stealing a glance at the Minbari woman, who was seated with her eyes closed and her breathing even, she realized it didn't matter who; it mattered what happened next. "I think we should talk," she said deliberately.
Delenn opened her eyes slowly, and looked over at Lochley. "If you believe it is necessary. How may I be of service to you?"
Lochley took a deep breath. "You've learned about my prior association with President Sheridan." She stared directly at Delenn and asked, "Is it going to be a problem?" Delenn was silent, and Lochley awaited her answer with mixed apprehension and impatience.
Finally, the Minbari spoke. "It will not be a problem."
Lochley said quickly and definitively, "Good." She knew it was probably a mistake, but she couldn't help herself asking, "How did you find out?" If it was Garibaldi, she was going to ban him from every area of the station she controlled. If he couldn't do his job after that, all the better.
"I..." Delenn hesitated, searching for the words that would be truthful without delving too deeply into the personal. "It came up in a conversation between the President and myself. No one else was involved."
Lochley was almost disappointed. She'd been looking forward to confronting Garibaldi. Although if he'd told Delenn, it could certainly be construed as part of his responsibilities as intelligence officer for the Alliance. "You must have guessed then."
Delenn asked, curiosity breaking through her reticence, "Why do you say that? Why do you think John would not have told me himself?"
"Because he promised me he wouldn't, and John Sheridan is a man of his word." Lochley heard the reluctance in the other woman's voice, and thought she could also hear confusion, and perhaps even pain. Damn, she was going to have to discuss this with Delenn, if it wasn't going to become an issue that affected all three of them, and not in a good way. "I forced him to make that promise. He didn't want to, but I gave him no choice."
"And how did you accomplish that feat of coercion? And why?" Delenn's voice remained deceptively calm, but her fingers moved restlessly as her hands lay close together in her lap.
Lochley leaned forward and blanked the screen in front of her, not needing the distraction of the blinking cursor asking for her approval of the recycling report. She laid her hands flat on her thighs, pressing down as if to keep herself in position. She used Sheridan's first name deliberately, as if to emphasize their past closeness, "When John came to me, proposing that I accept the position of commander of Babylon 5, I said 'No'. He persisted. I refused again. He kept at it, explaining his reasoning, that he wanted someone from EarthForce, at the command level, who wasn't involved in the attack on Earth..."
"In the liberation of your world. Perhaps that is what you meant to say?" Delenn corrected her gently.
Lochley stared at her, eyes hard, "I use the words that I mean to use."
"I must apologize." Delenn's voice actually held a slight note of chagrin. "In the diplomatic arena, people often say things they do not mean. I see that you are not one of those people."
"My work involves a different arena," replied Lochley. Taking a deep breath, she decided to go ahead and get this hashed out. It was time. "John wanted someone he knew he could trust, but needed the symbolism of someone who hadn't followed him in the rebellion." She held up her hand to forestall any further clarification from her passenger. "That's how it was viewed by a lot of EarthForce, Delenn. There's no use sugar-coating it. Mutiny was one of the kinder words used."
"I am not unfamiliar with the term. It may surprise you to know that I have been accused of similar actions against my own people." Delenn smiled slightly.
"Well then," Lochley said as she nodded in acknowledgment of Delenn's response. So far, so good, she thought. "John and I married against the rules." Thoughtfully, she added, "For such a straight arrow, he tends to break a lot of rules, or at least severely bend them." She was rewarded with another smile, and continued, "We were both cadets, and should have waited until graduation, and even then we should have applied for permission." At Delenn's look of disbelief, she hastened onward, "It was due to us both being command track, and in line for deep space berths. The Force doesn't like married people serving together, and doesn't like to separate newlyweds and put the marriage at risk. It's a catch-22."
Delenn repeated the unfamiliar phrase silently, then asked. "May I inquire exactly what a catch-22 is?"
"A conflict in priorities, a contradiction in rules that prevents any sensible resolution...a no-win situation." Lochley paused; it wasn't an easy concept to explain.
"John does not particularly believe in no-win situations," Delenn remarked. "And it is interesting to hear of this permission-seeking from your military caste. It is not that distant from my own people's traditions. Please continue, Captain, if you would."
Lochley looked down at the back of her hands, still pressed flat against her thighs. "The marriage didn't last. It ended as quietly and with as little fanfare as it had begun. And we both decided it was for the best to act as if it had never happened. It wouldn't do either of our careers any good if it became known. It wasn't that hard; very few people knew about it. The priest who'd performed the ceremony, a couple of friends. We went our separate ways. I was assigned to a deep space destroyer, and John got the Moon-Mars run. He met someone else, then there was the war..." Her voice petered out. This was a subject she didn't want to pursue.
"Yes," replied Delenn, a note of sad finality in her tone. "The war. And afterward?"
"Afterward we met up again on Earth. He told me about Anna, that they were going to be married. I had no problems with that, and wished him well. Then he asked if I minded if he told Anna about us." Lochley avoided Delenn's gaze, taking the opportunity to check the settings on the communications station, re-setting the volume to low but audible. "She wasn't even remotely connected to EarthForce and it seemed pretty low risk, so I told him to go ahead." She smiled at the memory. "For someone who enjoys obscure conspiracies and spy stories, he isn't a very good liar. He doesn't like to keep secrets unless he has to. Especially from those he trusts."
Delenn cleared her throat, which had become unexpectedly tight. "May I ask why you requested he not tell me about your previous relationship?" It had occurred to her many times in the last weeks that John did not trust her reaction; now she suddenly wondered if he did not trust her discretion. It felt as if the solid ground beneath her was shifting.
Lochley's voice turned coldly speculative. "Frankly, Delenn, I don't know you that well. The success of my command of this station depends on my past relationship with President Sheridan remaining unknown, at least for now. With time, it will become less important, and once the Alliance relocates to Minbar, it won't matter at all. In addition, I couldn't be sure how you would have reacted to it, and to me. It might have compromised my mission. It would have put me at a disadvantage."
"It seems that it was I that was put at a disadvantage," replied Delenn acerbically.
"It if makes any difference, John fought me on it, hard. He wanted to tell you, insisted he trusted you. But I persisted; in fact it was the only prerequisite I insisted on before I'd take the job. I had already been assured I would have complete control of station operations, subject to override only when it was an Alliance issue. I didn't like that exception, but I trusted John not to abuse it." Lochley took a deep breath as she recalled the Alliance's last bout of interference, and Delenn's role in it. She studied the Minbari's expression. "I regret any trouble this may have caused."
Delenn consciously relaxed the muscles in her back and shoulders which had tensed during the conversation. "It is no longer a issue." She looked at Lochley carefully, assessing the human Captain, trying to read her motivations and intentions. Finally, she said, "We are on the same side, Captain. Let us put this behind us, and proceed together in furtherance of our mutual goals, which are similar ones, for both the station and the Alliance."
Lochley smiled, and said ironically, "If the Alliance succeeds, it will likely render the station obsolete. Still, the mission is not tied to any one place. A soldier's duty is to prepare for war and to work for peace." She extended her hand to Delenn. "Pax?"
Delenn cocked her head, and started to ask, when Lochley interrupted, "It means, 'Peace', as in let there be peace between us."
"I see. Certainly I can, according to the custom of your people, shake on that," said Delenn with an answering smile. The two women clasped hands, and with that meeting of minds another bridge of understanding between human and Minbari was forged.