Chick Flick

part of Susan & Delenn's Excellent Adventures, set a few months after Strong at the Broken Places

(Delenn, Ivanova, David Sheridan, many OCs)

AU, 2282

Standard disclaimer applies; not my characters or settings or backgrounds. But they are my words.


"Mother, where are you?" The tall young man's boots clattered over the marble tiled floors as he strode through the apartment in IA headquarters that had been his childhood home.

"I am in here, David."

The voice was low, but clear, and he soon located the source. His mother was in one of the small offices just off the bedroom. When he looked in the door, he saw her sitting behind a comterminal, her hair neatly bound at the back and raised off her neck, except for that one errant strand that fell in a curl behind one ear. It often escaped when she was concentrating. Her expression was one of focused concern, and he hesitated a moment before interrupting her thoughts.

Delenn looked up from the screen, where the two versions of the proposed treaty between the Vree and the Gaim were laid out side by side. It would take some negotiation to bring the terms of the trading protocols even vaguely close to one another. The Gaim were a matriarchal hive society, with a statutory Queen who changed each rainy season, due to some esoteric and little understood criteria. Since the rainy season on their homeworld occurred every few months, it made negotiations time-critical. Looking up at her son, she smiled. He looked very smart in the new Ranger uniforms. They'd kept the cape, making it shorter, and streamlined the tunic and pants while keeping the material loose enough for quick and easy movement. The black and green fabric, accented with silver, made him look even taller than he was. He had inherited his father's height, and towered over most Minbari, as his father had towered over her.

"I thought you were still at the Academy! Did your class let out early?" She rose and took a few steps toward him, her arms outstretched.

He came forward and gave her an enthusiastic hug. "The class is over as of today; didn't I tell you? We're all awaiting our new assignments, and in the meantime, my whole cohort's been granted two weeks' leave...hope you don't mind, but I planned to hang around here a few days. A group of us are going climbing in the western mountains, but not until next week, after Safar." He held her loosely, and grinned down at her. "I won't be much trouble, and will try not to make too much noise."

Delenn answered in mock-disbelief. "As your father would have said, 'that'll be the day.' I will welcome the activity; perhaps I can even clear my calendar somewhat..."

David raised one eyebrow and answered, "That'll be the day, indeed!" His grin turned serious, and he escorted his mother back to her chair, seating her with courtly demeanor. Taking the chair on the opposite side of the desk, he deftly spun it around, and turning it backwards, sat down to face her. "I wanted to ask you something, Mother."

Delenn's fond expression didn't fade as she looked at her son, straddling the lightweight metal chair, his hands gripping the inverted triangle that formed the back. She'd actually been considering raiding John's study for his old beat-up padded chair on wheels. It would be more comfortable, and another point of familiarity for her. David's eyes were concerned, and his expression unusually uncertain. "Of course, David. You may ask me anything."

"I had this idea...You remember that coup attempt, a couple of months ago? Where we both ended up in the Falmin'shan?" His voice wavered on the term; he still hadn't completely processed what went on there, and as for imagining his mother's training there in her youth...well, he didn't want to think about that.

"Of course I remember," Delenn's voice was calm. It was usually wise to stay calm when her son came to her with an idea. She had lost count of the number of calming meditations she had performed as he had grown up. She'd even come up with a shortened version in those cases when events were happening quickly.

"I was thinking it might be a good idea to thank her...I mean them, personally. That is Nashon, and the novice, Lerriel...maybe invite them for dinner. To thank them for rescuing you and Aunt Susan. And for helping Fallon and me out of a tight spot."

David's voice was diffident, which was more than enough to alert Delenn that something was going on. She answered quickly and warmly, "That is an excellent idea! I would very much like to see Nashon again, and Lerriel seemed an intelligent young female, very capable. I shall send a message to Nashon today. Depending on what stage of the training Lerriel has reached, she might not be allowed to leave the temple..." Observing the disappointment on her son's face, she said thoughtfully, "I can request an exception be made, of course. And Nashon would accompany her, to act as..." Absently she picked up the wooden stylus on the desktop and tapped it impatiently as she tried to think of the human term, "oh, as chaperone. That's the word!"

David was taken aback and hurriedly said, "No need for that! I mean, that's not what I meant by asking...not that I'd mind getting to know her better," his voice broke off as he saw his mother trying to suppress her laughter with difficulty. "I liked her, Mother. Didn't you?"

"I did indeed. I am sure Nashon and I would like some time to ourselves after dinner to talk, and reminisce. Perhaps you could take on the task of entertaining Lerriel?" Her eyes danced at David's eager expression. "I could invite Susan as well. She said she would like to get to know Nashon." Leaning towards David, she added confidingly, "Susan is curious about our customs regarding the Falmin'shan. This could be illuminating for her."

David, distinctly uncomfortable, replied, "I'm not sure how I could entertain someone like Lerriel, though. I haven't been around many younger Minbari, except those in the Rangers."

Delenn looked at him fondly, memories of his father flooding her mind. She reached over and patted his hand. "There are many interesting items here, in the residence. Items of your father's, artifacts and curiosities given to the Alliance over the years. There is the garden..." David looked dubious, so she added, "You will think of something."

Even though she had drawn a reluctant smile from her son, she grew sober, and said hesitantly, "You will need to consider her heritage, David. Things have changed considerably on Minbar, but Lerriel is still religious caste Minbari, and there are traditions that must be followed, to protect her reputation if nothing else."

"It's only dinner, Mother!" David replied, somewhat irritated. "I'm not petitioning her clan to start the joining rituals. I would just like to see her again." His voice faltered, but he was encouraged by the return of a smile to his mother's lips.

Her eyes soft with memories, Delenn said, "I know. But many things may begin with one dinner." She continued, her voice serious. "We have not yet finished the negotiations with the warrior caste that ended the uprising. They will be watching me, and by extension, you, for any issue to bring up in the talks. They are radicals, and xenophobes. I do not enjoy listening to their prejudices, but their feelings are strong, and must be considered if not accommodated."

David stood, and restlessly began to walk around the room. "I've faced this issue my whole life, and know a great deal about such 'feelings'." He ran his fingers over the vestigial crest that lay partly hidden by his wheat-blond hair. "You and Dad kept a lot of it from me when I was growing up, but I've been on my own for a while now. The Anla'Shok is the only place I've ever really felt at home." At the distressed look on his mother's face, he ceased pacing, and leaning over her, took her hands between his own. "It's not that bad, really. I had Dad, and I have you and Aunt Susan, and most of Dad's family has been great. It is what it is, and I've accepted it." He quelled his inner rebellious thoughts, and said carefully, "Look, if this is going to cause you any trouble..."

Delenn squeezed her son's hands tightly in return, and looked directly into his eyes. Lifting her chin defiantly, she said firmly, "I will not allow the warrior caste to run my life, or my son's. They will have to 'learn to deal' as your father would have said. I will issue the invitations today." She stood up, and said, "Now, let's get you settled in, and maybe we can consider your entertainment choices."

It didn't take long to move David back into his old room, although Delenn had to laugh at his nonchalance about the childish items that still held places of honor there. His stuffed gok lay face down on the top of a white bookshelf, and he surreptitiously righted it when he thought she wasn't looking. The limp toy seemed to watch, glassy-eyed, as David prowled around the room, stopping briefly to examine the row of starship models on one shelf, and to run his hand over the row of data crystals that contained the journal entries and taped conversations his father had made for him over the years. Moving back in consisted of dropping his carryall in the chest at the end of the bed, and taking off his Ranger cloak, and hanging it in the closet.

Delenn silently watched from the doorway, content just to have him home.

"There, all done. Back for a week or so at least." David turned towards his mother, flashing a smile. "You mind if I take a look around Dad's study?"

"Not at all," replied Delenn steadily. "It is not a shrine, but a room of wonderful memories. I spend time there almost every day. I will take a moment to place the call to Nashon, and see if Susan is available. Then I will join you."

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Susan Ivanova was winding up a very long day when the first call came in. It was from the President, asking her to return the call at her convenience. It didn't sound terribly urgent, so she settled back down to finish up the last of the paperwork; that is, today's paperwork. She'd worked through dinner again, having some rash'nar delivered from the Academy cafeteria earlier. Most of it remained on the plate, cold and congealed into a lumpy mass. The second call was both more intriguing and more unsettling.

The comlink on her wrist buzzed at the same time as the workstation chimed to indicate an incoming call. She checked the source; it was the Earth ambassador's office. Although she was technically not in the political chain of command of the Alliance, the ambassador was a former EarthForce officer, and she tended to treat Ivanova as her own personal font of information on all things Minbari. She'd gotten friendly with the ambassador's attache, Daniel Lambert, a quiet man in his late forties, well-traveled and more comfortable with Minbari and Rangers than his superior. She'd worked together with him on several issues, most recently during the latest crisis when a group of human tourists had gone missing during the coup attempt.

Lambert had been with the group, which included a provincial official from Orion 7, and a minor industrialist from Proxima. The attache was acting as a guide, taking them around the thriving trade area that had arisen in Tuzanoor around the spaceport. The 'alien sector' as it was known, represented a mix of cultures, and included residences, businesses, and cultural institutions. The Minbari had given up on governing the area, and policing it fell to a special subset of the Rangers, trained as military police. Susan's Rangers had eventually located the tourist group, holed up in an abandoned temple on the edge of town. She had admired the way Lambert had taken charge, keeping the group calm, all together, and out of sight, until help arrived.

"Yes, how may I help you, Ambassador?" she spoke to the screen, not looking at it, as she was shoving a stack of files in front of the remnants of her dinner. Cold rash'nar turned an unappetizing shade of purplish-grey, and she didn't want to repulse the woman who remained adamant about sticking to Earth cuisine. Looking up at the screen, she was pleased to see Daniel's face instead of General Wagner's. "Oh, hello, Lambert. What's going on? Has Gerry got you working late?" Glancing at the chronometer on the comscreen, she saw it was after ten o'clock, Earth Standard Time.

"No, no," said Daniel, smiling slightly at the sight of the second most powerful woman in the Interstellar Alliance, her hair escaping the knot at the back of her neck, her desk covered with neat squares of files, except for the stack that almost concealed a grey warty mass that must be cold rash'nar. Suppressing a shudder at her choice of foodstuffs, he continued, albeit a bit awkwardly, "This is a personal call, actually."

"Really," said Susan a bit nervously. What could Daniel Lambert have to discuss with her that was personal? She hoped he hadn't gotten into trouble at that Centauri gambling establishment that had recently opened in the alien sector of Tuzanoor. The games were only exceeded in allure by the girls, and she'd had to put the place off limits to her Ranger cadets already. When Susan had warned Wagner about it, the ambassador had laughed and said Daniel was the gambler, not her. "How can I help you?"

"I, um, well, that is..."

Susan notice that the man's ears were turning a dusky shade of red. He ran his hand through his hair, raking the thick dark brown waves backwards. His nervousness was strangely appealing, and her sympathy put her at ease. "Go ahead. I swear I won't bite your head off. You're not in any trouble, are you? Something you don't want Gerry to know about?"

"No, no," he said quickly, "nothing like that." He cleared his throat and said, slowly and carefully, "I wanted to know if you would like to go out with me. Sometime."

Susan was momentarily confused. "Go where?" Then, as realization hit her, she said slowly, "Are you asking me out? I mean, on a date?" She fervently hoped he was, or she was going to sound like an idiot having made the assumption.

"That's about it, yes. A date. Two people, going out together, alone. Something I don't do very often, and haven't done at all lately." Daniel's voice had firmed now he'd gotten his request out, and there was a suggestion of self-deprecating humor in it.

Susan laughed, "I guess it's pretty obvious that it's been a while for me, too, isn't it?" She looked at the screen thoughtfully. "I don't know why not. In fact, I'd really like that. Did you have a day in mind?" She tried not to think about her sparse wardrobe, which consisted of old EarthForce uniforms, Anla'Shok outfits, and Valen's robes; none seemed like a good choice for a casual date.

"Dinner, three days from now, around 8 pm Earth Standard?" Daniel was on more familiar ground now, setting schedules was a large part of his job. His confidence had also soared with Susan's affirmative answer. In fact, he was having a hard time not grinning broadly at his luck.

"I'll have to check my calendar, and get back to you. Hopefully by tomorrow, if that's all right. Um, where were you thinking of going?" Again the specter of what to wear rose before her eyes.

"There's a new restaurant in the alien sector; fusion cuisine, human and Minbari. I've heard good things from the local ex-pats." Susan nodded her approval, and he continued, "They say they even have ice cream. I can't remember the last time I've tasted that."

"Me either. Sounds good." Susan glanced at the screen where an alarm was going off in the background. "I have to return a call now, Daniel. I'll talk with you tomorrow."

He grinned now, "No rest for the weary, is there? Thanks, Susan. I'm really looking forward to this chance to get to know you a little better. Talk to you tomorrow."

The screen went black, but then repopulated with the files she'd had open, plus the reminder to call the President at the residence. "No rest, but maybe a little recreation," said Susan under her breath, as she hit the button to initiate the return call.

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Susan had set her non-emergency comlink to record messages only, so Delenn left a brief request that she return the call when she had time available. Then she had the central computer route a call outside Alliance headquarters to Nashon, or rather to the central communications at the temple. All calls were routed that way; there were usually dozens of calls a day with queries as to services and hours, etc. There was an amusing interlude as the religious caste Minbari putting the call through forcefully declared that this was a personal call, and that the President of the Alliance had no need of the services offered by the Falmin'shan. She would have to speak to the young male. Some of the old attitudes towards the temples of pleasure obviously still remained. She would not have Nashon exposed to disrespect in her home.

As she waited for Nashon to be summoned to answer the call, she reflected on David's matter of fact statement about his treatment by her people, and John's. There were those who had never accepted him, in both groups. There were those who had only reluctantly accepted her. That did not bother her as much as imagining David's experiences. John had been right to insist on his being schooled in their home; although a good part of his reasoning had been wanting them to spend as much time together as a family as possible. The Anla'Shok had been a second family to her son; accepting him as one of their own from the start. She and John had never lacked for volunteers to assist in childcare or tutoring. She strongly suspected there were things he'd learned from his Anla'Shok watchers that she did not want to know.

"Delenn?"

She returned to the present, and looked at the screen, where her old friend Nashon's face was outlined. The Minbari woman had a long, thin face, with bright eyes alive with intelligence, and a wide, full mouth. Quickly Delenn outlined her plan, and was gratified to see Nashon nodding her acceptance before she had finished speaking. They agreed on a date of three nights from then, and Nashon agreed readily to Lerriel's attendance. "She is an admirable girl, and we will miss her if she decides to leave us."

"Is she at the end of her training then?" asked Delenn.

"Almost. The most promising novice I've had in years, and yet she wants to bury herself in the scrolls at the Central Repository. She burns to be a scholar, that one. So good with people, everyone loves her, and still she loves history more. Forever buried in the past, I worry that the present will pass her by. Perhaps this invitation will show her another path."

"You expect me to encourage her to stay within the Falmin'shan, to take the vows that you have taken?" Delenn cocked her head in question.

"Not in the slightest. I only want her to be certain. Choices have consequences, and hers are her own responsibility. But she needs to see more of life as it is, rather than as she imagines it to be," said Nashon in reply.

"You mean she is young," laughed Delenn.

"She is that," answered Nashon wryly. "Yet she is older than you were when you came to me for training. You have had so much more experience in the outer worlds; maybe she will learn something."

"Actually," began Delenn hesitantly, "This invitation comes from my son. I extend it in his name, and in recognition of our friendship and your recent efforts on our behalf." She took Nashon's carefully schooled expression in, and went on. "He wishes to thank you both."

"I see," said Nashon. "Delenn, you know I stand as clan elder to Lerriel while she is in my care..."

"I do not think it will come to that, Nashon. Let them meet, and spend some time together. There will be time to consider other things when there are other things to consider." Delenn's voice was firm and final.

"We will be there, and gladly. It was a fortunate circumstance that led you to my temple." Nashon smiled. "Valen go with you, Delenn. I will see you in three days."

Delenn had barely broken the connection when the chime sounded indicating an incoming call. Describing the situation she noticed that Susan seemed distracted. Breaking off her explanation, she asked, "Is something wrong?"

"No, not at all," answered Susan quickly. "When did you say this party was?"

"Not a party, merely dinner with some old friends..."

"And some young ones, it sounds like. I knew that one would be trouble." Susan shook her head in mock despair.

"Are you speaking of Lerriel, or my son?" asked Delenn, laughter bubbling under her voice.

"Lerriel may or may not be trouble in and of herself, but I saw the way David looked at her in that temple. Trouble's riding in with her." Susan asked again, "And when is this excuse for David to see Lerriel scheduled again?"

"In three days..." Delenn saw a brief flash of dismay cross Susan's face, and asked curiously, "Did you have something else planned this week?" She watched in astonishment as Susan's face grew bright red. "Susan? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I did have other plans, but it's not important. So. There's no problem. I'll be there. Looking forward to it." Susan spoke quickly, trying to glide over the lack of detail offered in her reply.

A sudden thought occurred to Delenn. "You are seeing someone?" She couldn't hide the surprise behind her question.

Susan took affront at this. "Why shouldn't I go out with someone? Besides, it was just dinner," she added defensively. "Dinner with a friend. That's all. I'll call and re-schedule."

"Of course," Delenn answered calmly, trying to placate her friend. "I will look forward to seeing you. Nashon is an old and dear friend. I would like you to know her, and for her to know you." They said their good-byes, but as the screen reset to her interrupted work, she repeated softly under her breath, "Much can begin with one dinner."

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David meanwhile had been exploring his father's study. He'd been there so many times before, and knew it from all angles. One of his earliest memories was standing unsteadily on his father's chair, trying to reach something on top of a shelf. He'd teetered as he stretched up, just able to see the dark surface, and almost fallen when he felt his father's large hand, warm on the center of his back, firmly but gently supporting him.

"Go ahead," his dad had said. "A man's reach should exceed his grasp. If you want it, go for it."

David shook his head; he couldn't even remember what he'd wanted so badly. His father had never held him back, but never pushed him either; just provided constant and reliable support in all his adventures. He knew he'd been lucky in his parents, even with some of the grief he'd taken from others due to his unique heritage. Smiling to himself, he acknowledged he'd caused his parents some consternation too, growing up. He'd sparred with his Dad, but never anything serious, except that one time, and he'd give anything to take that back. His mother would never talk about her experiences on Centauri Prime. As horrible as his own time there had been, it still made him sick to think of his mother in Centauri custody, and as a result of his own stupidity. Dad had been quiet for a long time afterwards, and would only say that he hoped he'd never find himself in that place again...that twice was enough.

"How is your search progressing?"

David started and turned around to see his mother had entered the room behind him. She could move like a gok sometimes, quietly slipping into a space with little fanfare. Oddly, his father, who had been a large man, had also had this ability. It had sometimes made things difficult for him when he was younger.

"I haven't really started." He gestured around at the small, tidy space. "It brings him back, being in here...I sometimes walk in, half expecting to see him behind that desk."

His mother smiled briefly, "Yes. I also have felt this. Someday, when I leave these quarters, I rather think this room will be the most difficult to leave behind." She looked around at the long room, the large heavy desk at one end, the windows opening out on the balcony that extended the length of the room and past the adjoining bedroom, the couch and two chairs. At times they had worked on that couch, side by side, looking over files or maps, papers strewn over the surface of the low table in front of it. Other times it had been used for other pursuits. She ran her hand over the soft black close-woven fabric, and gently touched the triangular silver pillows at one end. "I wish your father could have met Nashon. I do not know why I did not seek her out when we returned to Minbar all those years ago. I am not even sure how long she has been at the Falmin'shan in Tuzanoor. Perhaps for years."

David looked at her sympathetically. "You had a lot on your plate when you came back here; a new marriage, a new Alliance, and then me not long after that!" He added, "Mostly, you had Dad. Spending time with one another was your priority after work. Maybe before work."

Delenn said tartly, "Definitely before work, and after time for you! But you are right," she sighed deeply, and looked around the room, "We had each other, and that was enough. Then. But times change."

David nodded vigorously. "They sure do. And it's great that you've found an old friend." He made a despairing gesture, "But what am I going to do with Lerriel?"

Delenn bit her tongue, trying not to make a comment she might later regret. She walked over to one of the floor-to-ceiling shelf units on the wall, a narrow tower of glass and black wood. Taking a gunmetal grey box from a low shelf, she held it out to David. "What about one of these?"

David looked perplexed as he took the case. Laying it on the table, he settled onto the couch, his legs wide and taking up most of the narrow space. Delenn sat beside him, and watched as he opened the box. Inside were five data crystals, with gold labels below each one. The labels had two numbers separated by a dash, four digits each. David looked at his mother questioningly.

"It was a gift. They are old Earth vids, from the 20th and 21st century." Delenn pointed to the side of the box, where David saw emblazoned '100 Gems of Old Earth Cinema, an MPV Original Collection.' "They were some sort of public service offering put out by Mars PubVid, soon after they were acquired by Edgars Industries."

"Uncle Mike sent them?" said David, as he touched first one, then another. "What for?"

"They were a gift, for our tenth wedding anniversary, as I recall." Delenn added smiling at the memory, "He also sent me a case of popcorn." Noting David's confusion, she picked up the first crystal and handed it to him. "This one contains a list and a description of the stories included in the set." Her eyes began to sparkle as she continued, "If you were to consider this a 'date', perhaps you could make it dinner and a movie, as is the human custom. Your father and I sometimes did this, back on the station. I am certain it would be a novel distraction for Lerriel."

"Maybe," said David slowly. "I wouldn't know what to pick though. They are so old and out-of-date. And very human. I'm not sure she would understand, or enjoy any of them."

Delenn stood and said, "I will need to let the staff know that you will be here for the evening meal. Look them over, David. Lerriel is interested in history, perhaps she is as curious about humans as you are about other races. And isn't that part of what dating traditions are about? Each learning about the other?"

"It's not a 'date', Mother! Minbari don't date, as you well know." David picked up the box and tucked it under one arm. "I'll think about it, but I'm still not sure. There might not be enough time, given we are already having them for dinner."

"That is true. There is always the next time!" She smiled, enjoying the look of admonition David gave her. "In any case,it is your decision. Now, let me go make that call or you will have to scavenge your meal from what's in the kitchen. And that is not a great deal." Delenn left, heading back towards her office. An idea had occurred to her that might break the impasse in the Vree-Gaim treaty and she wanted to make a note of it before she set to work re-arranging her schedule to accommodate visiting with her son, and a social dinner party. It would be a welcome change from the usual diplomatic events. She had to smile at herself; she was as eager as a child looking forward to Festival.

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Three days later, Susan arrived at Delenn's door promptly at six o'clock, the hour of tinra in Minbari time. It had been a warm day, and she had come in a hurry having had to deal with a last minute problem. This left her sticky and uncomfortable, even in her casual uniform. Greeting the honor guard at the door, she pressed the chime for admission. Normally she would have let herself in, but this was a more formal occasion, and she thought it called for a less laid-back approach. Besides, she was late, and adhering to protocol might mitigate any distress she'd caused.

"Susan? Come in! Why in the world are you standing out here?" Delenn bowed to her friend, touching foreheads in the gesture of intimate greeting. "Nashon and Lerriel just arrived. David is chatting with them in the dining room."

Susan raised an expressive eyebrow. "How's he doing? All charm, or are his nerves showing?"

"He is fine," Delenn admonished. Then she smiled, "Maybe a little nervous. But as with his father, it somehow comes out appealing." She took Susan aside for a moment. "After the meal, I plan to ask him to show Lerriel the rest of the apartments, while you and Nashon and I talk. Is that the correct way to go about this?" A line of worry creased her forehead.

"It's fine. A time-honored human tradition. You know, he came and talked to me about this evening." Susan crossed her arms in front of her, enjoying the look of curiosity that flashed over Delenn's face. "He wanted some advice."

"Advice about what?" Delenn said quickly. Then she flushed, and added, "Of course, if it was a private conversation..."

Susan grinned, "Not that private. He said you'd suggested he show Lerriel an old Earth vid, and wanted my opinion on what she'd like. I told him I had no experience with the viewing habits of young novices, but he was so disappointed, I looked over the list and pointed to some titles that might work as chick flicks."

"Chick...flicks?" Delenn's voice was a mix of interest and astonishment. "What does that expression refer to exactly?"

Susan laughed, and gestured towards the dining room. "Your guests are waiting. I'll tell you later."

The meal was a simple one, and there were no attendants. Delenn sat at one end of the table and David at the other. Nashon and Lerriel were next to each other, and Susan was opposite Nashon. It was a pleasant meal, although Lerriel seemed quieter than Susan had remembered her. She hoped the young female wasn't intimidated by the company; that wouldn't bode well for the rest of David's evening. Finally, Delenn laid her tableware across her plate, the sign that the meal was officially over. About time, Susan thought, David was getting more and more fidgety, and the conversation between the younger members of the dinner party had practically halted.

"I thought we would have tea in the living room. Susan, if you would show Nashon the way? And David, perhaps you could see to Lerriel's diversion. I'm afraid there are some issues I need to discuss with Susan, and I would appreciate Nashon's input as well. Political matters, of little interest to the two of you. Feel free to explore the apartments; there is an extensive Earth and Minbari library in my husband's study, Lerriel. I know of your interest in manuscripts. There are other items of some historical interest there." Delenn went towards the kitchen area to prepare the tea.

Susan pushed back her chair, and waited for Nashon to rise. David looked a bit flustered, and she took a moment to whisper in his ear. "Have fun. Don't do anything I wouldn't do." The look she received in return was pure Sheridan, and for a moment, she felt a warm pinch at her heart. Her words seemed to have broken David's uncertain mood, however, and she watched in amusement as he led Lerriel out of the dining room, chatting easily with her. Sighing, she turned to Nashon, who was watching the young pair's rapid retreat with a slightly worried smile.

David took Lerriel into his father's study, and through it into the library. Although most information was now encoded on implantable chips and synthwires, the library had an extensive collection of data crystals, flimsies, even bound books of paper and tightly rolled scrolls. The Minbari drew in her breath, and gesturing about her, said in a shaky voice, "This is amazing. Perhaps if your mother would allow, I might explore this further at some point?"

"You could do that now if you like. My mother wouldn't mind. She asked me to show you around." David hoped they weren't in for an evening of studying old books. Though none of his other ideas seemed much better at the moment.

Lerriel lowered her eyes, "It would be impolite to concentrate solely on my enthusiasms. I am a guest here." He could see a smile pulling at her finely chiseled lips. "Your guest, I was told. It is only right that we spend time in some mutual...exploration?"

Hoping his voice wasn't going to come out as a high squeak, David replied, "Exploration?"

"Of each other's minds and hearts and cultures. Did you not express a wish to know me better?" She opened her grey eyes wide and stared into his blue ones. "When Nashon told me of your request that I attend this event, I was pleased. It was an honor to assist the President and the Anla'Shok in the recent troubles. It is even more of an honor to be invited here." She gestured around her. "This place is a treasure trove of history. I have studied the period from the Earth-Minbari War through the second Shadow War, but Minbari sources are scarce. That is one reason I want to transfer to the Central Repository after I finish my training. They have greater access to the records of the Anla'Shok, as well as the complete writings and recordings of Dukhat. There is so much I have yet to learn."

David watched her eyes catch fire with passionate enthusiasm. He found it compelling if a little intimidating. "When do you finish your training? And what will you do at the Repository? Is there a position waiting for you?"

"Like others who wish to serve in this manner, I have asked my clan elders to present my

petition to the Librarians. Nashon has also voiced support, although I know she believes I have something to offer the Falmin'shan as well. You, though, are committed to the Anla'Shok? Have you taken your final vows?" Lerriel's voice was light and non-committal; her posture relaxed.

David wished he could feel as relaxed as she appeared. He reflected that she was trained to put others at their ease, but then his mind sheared away from considering that training more deeply. "I take my vows at the end of the next quarter. Sometimes it seems like I've always wanted to join the Anla'Shok. Sometimes," here he hesitated, then plunged ahead, "Sometimes I think it is the only place I would ever feel at home." Gesturing to a long divan in the center of the library, he waited until she took a seat, then asked if she would like something to drink. He left the room briefly, to pick up a pitcher of cool water from the dining room table, and two crystal-faceted tumblers. Returning, he found that she was looking over the box of vids he had left in the room. There was a large viewscreen hidden behind a panel in the wall of the library, if they got that far. He paused to light two squat candles on the table, and their subtle scent filled the air. The room was well-lit, although the light was soft and it was hard to tell from where it was coming. Pouring the water and offering her a glass, he continued. "The Anla'Shok helped to raise me. Not that my parents weren't involved; they were, but the Anla'Shok was always there. My tutors largely came from their ranks, and I tended to have one as bodyguard whenever I left the compound."

Lerriel looked at him over the rim of her glass, lowering it after she drank. "It must have been a lonely life."

"Not really," replied David, leaning forward and setting his own glass on the table. "There were always lots of people around. Not many other children, though there were a few. Occasionally Alliance representatives or ambassadors from non-aligned worlds would bring their families. And there are Minbari who serve the Alliance and live in the compound. I hung out with their kids before they were sent off to temple schools, and then when they came home for feast days." He stopped, and then asked hesitantly, "Do you mind telling me about yourself? I mean, Mother gave me the list of your family and clan associations, back about seven generations, but where did you grow up; where did you go to school?"

Lerriel smiled, and answered slowly, as if thinking carefully about what to say. "I went to the local temple school, near Yedor, when I was six cycles of age, as is traditional in the religious caste. When I was ten cycles old, I was moved to a larger school, near Tuzanoor for further training..." She broke off, and looked at David curiously. "You know all this already, do you not? It is the standard upbringing for a religious caste female."

David shook his head. "I know about Minbari traditions, but probably not as much as you think. And nothing about my childhood was standard." Her eyes were fixed on his face, and he had to fight the temptation to spend the rest of the evening staring back. They were clear grey, and the dark pupils expanded as he watched, giving him the feeling he was falling into their depths. After a moment's silence, he cleared his throat and pointed at the case on the table, "My mother thought you might be interested in these..."

Lerriel looked at the open case. The data crystals twinkled in the candlelight, and she touched each gently with her extended forefinger. "What are they?"

"Old movies...Earth vids from a couple of hundred years ago. A gift to my parents from an old friend. In training we are taught that you can tell a great deal about a culture from their leisure reading and viewing." He cleared his throat, and reached out to pick up one of the crystals. "I was thinking about watching this one. Sometime soon. Maybe, if you were interested...this kind of sharing is apparently a human tradition. I don't know much about those either." His voice seemed to fade away as she touched the crystal, turning it in his palm to view the inscribed code. Her fingers were cool as they brushed across his, and he fought the impulse to close his fingers, to encase her hand in his, to stroke her palm with his fingertips. "The story is set during a war; at a place that was a crossroads, a port, and a hotbed of conspiracy and rebellion." He smiled. "I'm told there is a love story involved."

Lerriel's eyes sparkled. "The setting does sounds somewhat familiar. I would be honored to observe this human ritual with you, Ranger Sheridan."

Turning abruptly, partly to break the contact that was growing so quickly between them, David slid the data crystal in the viewer, which in turn activated the hidden screen. He settled down on the couch beside Lerriel, and watched her as she followed intently the movements of the grey shades that flickered through the past of another world.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The three older women had settled in the living area, centered around a low table set with a simple white tea set and service for six. After pouring and setting aside a cup for Valen, Delenn poured tea for her friends. The conversation was general at first, and she let it ramble gently on until she felt her two friends were comfortable with each other. Both were intelligent, capable women, and both had a distinct cynical streak. Delenn felt Susan had mellowed over the years, though the human maintained that a certain base pessimism came with her Russian heritage. Nashon was still the caring and compassionate woman Delenn had met so many years before. Her friend had spent the last few decades running one of the largest Falmin'shan on Minbar, dealing with all aspects of training, administration, and provision of services, as well as caste interactions and larger political issues. This had hardened her, giving her a more cautious approach to new acquaintances. Still, she and Susan were obviously enjoying each other's company, and Delenn joined in the discussion with interest and pleasure.

"How are you finding your new position, Anla'Shok Na?" asked Nashon, "Although I suppose it is no longer that new. You have been here, what, a year now?"

"It is the most interesting, challenging, and at the same time, the most frustrating job I've ever held," replied Susan, "I don't think I'll ever look at it as other than a 'new' position. I'm still discovering what the Rangers are, much less what they could become, and how to lead them there. The mission is always changing, which makes it a different job every day. I love it." She grinned at Delenn, who smiled smugly back.

"Then why did it take me so long to talk you into accepting the position?" Delenn said, topping off the tea in the cup Nashon had lowered to the table.

Susan answered swiftly, "Are you kidding? I jumped at it, afraid you'd come to your senses and revoke the offer!"

The two women laughed, although a tinge of pain lay under the audible humor. Both remembered very well the circumstances when the offer had first been made, and both knew where the idea has originally arisen. Nashon looked at them both, assessing the emotional content of the exchange, and then moved to diffuse a potential negative turn in the conversation.

"From all that I have heard, Anla'Shok Na, you are both accepted, and respected. I have heard it said that you are the finest leader the Rangers have enjoyed since Entil'zha Sinclair. That judgment, by the way, included consideration of Delenn, and John Sheridan himself." Nashon enjoyed Susan's blushes and Delenn' delighted laugh. Looking over at the doorway leading to the study, she remarked to Delenn, "Your son resembles his father." Leaning forward to pick up her cup, she remarked casually, "Lerriel was intrigued and pleased by this invitation. I think she knew it came from young Sheridan." Nashon leaned back and smiled. "I believe that was the part that pleased her."

Delenn was briefly nonplussed, and replied, "As I told you, this is merely an introductory meeting." At Nashon's continued smile, she added wryly, "At least, it is one where they can talk rather than be distracted by by an ongoing battle."

Susan had been silent, thinking about the undertones of the conversation. Now she broke in, "Delenn, I've been meaning to ask your opinion on something. We've had two more mixed couples requesting joint assignments."

Delenn looked concerned. "How many is that? " And then, without looking directly at Nashon, she added, "Perhaps another time would be better for this discussion?"

Susan shook her head. "I don't think so. I was wondering if Nashon would mind giving me her opinion on the matter. It seems to me she has experience with relationships between castes, if not with aliens." Turning to the Minbari woman, who sat upright, giving off an aura of dignified interest, she continued, "As you know, the Anla'Shok renounce their loyalty to caste and clan, swearing allegiance instead to each other and their leaders. So we have mixing of all three castes, as well as with humans, and many of the other races. We operate in the open now, mostly as a peace-keeping force, and some of our Rangers are developing relationships within the corps. It hasn't been a huge problem; we keep pretty much to ourselves. But I see it as a possible flash point, especially after that exhibition the Warrior caste put on a few months ago. It doesn't seem like everyone on Minbar has accepted the presence of aliens here, much less the possibility of the mixing of different races." Susan looked over at Delenn, whose expression was frozen in place. "I'm sorry, Delenn, but whether we're going to support these couples or suppress them, I need to make a decision before it goes too far."

Nashon said thoughtfully, "My guess is that it has already gone quite far. By the time such relationships come to the attention of commanding officers, especially to the point of requesting recognition, they are wide-spread. It has been twenty years since the Shadow war and the formation of the Alliance. The Rangers were envisioned as a place for Alliance races to meet and learn about one another while serving a greater purpose. It is only natural that they would seek mates among those they work so closely with, and some of those pairs will cross racial lines." Nashon directed her next remark to Delenn. "I would not worry, however. This is not the same world you and I grew up in, and while change comes slowly to our people, still it comes."

"Change is one thing," said Delenn. "Chao is another. And I fear that the more reactionary of the Warrior caste's clans would see this kind of mixing as a new kind of chaos."

"They'll adjust if they have to," said Susan. She looked from one woman to another. "Won't they?" Her comlink chimed, and she flicked her wrist to open the coded message in the air in front of her. "That's Nerrell, and he says it's important." Sighing, she said, "Sorry, Delenn. I'll have to take this." She stood, and said, "Excuse me," and moved out of earshot.

Delenn and Nashon remained silent for a moment. Nashon spoke first, "The subject strikes close to home for you, does it not?"

Delenn nodded. "Susan is conscientious, perhaps overly so. I cannot imagine this is a widespread problem. And it can be dealt with within the Anla'Shok."

Nashon shook her head. "I think you will find these things are all happening, now, at this time, for a reason. Perhaps it is time for a change."

"You saw what happened, just a few months ago," said Delenn. "I do not think the Warriors are ready to welcome change."

"They may not welcome it, but if it comes, they will adjust, as Anla'Shok Na Ivanova says," Nashon put out a comforting hand. "I am certain of it."

Susan paused in the hallway, and sketched a few symbols in the air, activating the link with Nerrell in the Command Center. "What's the problem, Nerrell?"

"It sounds like a potentially explosive situation, Anla'Shok Na. In the alien sector; that new gaming establishment. The Centauri proprietor called it in. There seem to be Warriors involved, and of course there are civilians of many races present." The Minbari cadet's voice was terse and tightly controlled. He had been involved in the recent coup attempt by some clans of the Warrior caste. Things had been quiet, but underneath, the tensions ran swift and strong.

"Send out a team, Nerrell. We need to keep this from escalating." Susan said sternly. "I appreciate the notice, but you know what to do."

"I'm afraid we're short-handed, Anla'Shok Na. There was a problem in Sector 27, outside the city, on the road towards Yedor. I had to send two teams to handle it. Then there was the landslide in the Western Mountains a few days ago. We offered to help with the clean-up and evacuation of refugees, and sent two -thirds of the normal Tuzanoor contingent to assist. The recent increase in patrols on the borders of Centauri space, with the extra ships and crews, have drained our reserves. I can only gather a small group; four, maybe five in you include myself, to deal with this problem. If there are Warriors involved that may not be enough."

Susan nodded at the holographic image. "I see. I'll come, and bring Cadet Sheridan along. He's so close to graduation that it makes no difference. I would like you to come as well; you're the only Warrior caste Ranger in hailing distance right now. Before you leave, call in anyone who's on leave, anyone you can reach, and put them on alert status. And call the Academy. Have Lazar and T'nell rouse the cadets and get them to substitute for the Rangers on designated patrols and guard duty, as well as taking your place in the Command Center. Then have those Rangers already out there ring the alien sector for crowd control and containment in case this gets out of hand. I don't want to go in with excess force; that may trigger more violence."

"I will meet you there, as soon as I can. Entil'zha veni, Anla'Shok Na. Nerrell out."

Susan swore under her breath, and turned towards the entrance to John's study. The lights were dim, and she could hear the sound of friendly argument. At least, she hoped it was friendly.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The movie had started out well enough. David had learned enough Earth history from his father and his tutors that he could fill in the blanks of assumed knowledge that were part of any cross-cultural entertainment, particularly one so old, and from a time when other worlds were still very much a part of fiction. Lerriel was interested in everything; the city, the entertainment, the transportation, the clothes, the music. He had a hard time keeping up with her lively, and intelligent, appreciation.

At one point he caught her smiling and nodding, and he asked her what part of the story she found herself in agreement with.

"It is just that I believe she will stay with him." Her eyes kept sliding back to the screen. "As is right," she added solemnly.

David found it harder than ever to focus on the movie. "I haven't seen the ending, but I suppose she will stay. It would be hard to deny an attraction that strong."

"Attraction?" queried Lerriel. "But she is attracted to the other man, the dark one. Her duty lies with the other, and that is where her true path lies."

"I don't think so..." began David, but at Lerriel's look of disbelief, he qualified his statement. "Duty is one thing, but love is another."

"But love cannot exist outside one's responsibilities to the larger world. It would wither and die in that case, strangled by regret." Lerriel's voice rang with passion and conviction. "I do not see how she can stay."

David's voice caught in his throat, but his attempt at a coherent reply was cut off by the appearance of Susan Ivanova in the doorway, limned by the bright light of the hallway behind her. "David, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I need your help. There's a problem in the alien sector, and we're a bit short-handed."

David jumped to his feet, and said, "Of course, Anla'Shok Na." He looked down at Lerriel, willing her to understand why he had to go, knowing full well she would understand, and approve. "I'll retrieve my cloak and pike and be there in a minute."

Susan nodded briskly. "I'll meet you at the door. Sorry to interrupt your evening, Lerriel. It was nice to meet you." She bowed slightly to the young novice, and hurried back to the living room to inform Delenn.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Daniel Lambert was a little bit drunk. He'd meant this evening to go in a completely different direction, but fool that he was, he'd fallen for a conscientious, powerful woman, with a job that was all-consuming and all-important. This outing ranked a distant second best to his original plan of a quiet evening alone with Susan Ivanova, but at least he'd pocketed his winnings early. With any luck he'd reach his preferred state of inebriation before he reached the end of his credits.

"Another brevari, Ren?" he asked, pushing two short, funnel-shaped glasses towards the Centauri bartender. The question was directed to the owner of the establishment. La Scalla Azur was a combination of bar and restaurant, with gaming rooms in the back, and a decent sized stage. It was rumored the Centauri owner rented rooms in the back as well, but Daniel didn't see that it was any of his business. Not unless some idiot human tourist got caught up in something there. That had been his original excuse for visiting La Scalla; to see whether it should be placed on the list of proscribed venues for the diplomatic staff, and whether they should warn visitors off. He'd thought it rakish and retro, rather charming in fact. All in all; it was mostly harmless. The food was good, the games weren't rigged (at least not very much), the dancers were beautiful, and the drink selection was excellent.

"No, no, Mr. Lambert." Ren's face glistened with sweat, and his hand trembled a little as he waved away the offer of a drink. "Thank you for offering." His eyes darted back and forth, constantly monitoring the strategically placed security staff, as well as his own wait-people and the patrons. He smiled, but his eyes kept returning to a group of Minbari who had recently entered. Warrior caste males, they had swaggered through the crowd to a table in the far corner of the room and there they sat, looking at the crowd rather than the stage, where a barely-clad Centauri dancer performed to a slow and sinuous rhythm played expertly by a mixed quartet. Silent for the most part, as if waiting for something or someone, the Warriors would occasionally break into intense bouts of conversation, gesturing towards the bar, and especially towards the area at the back, which housed the casino, among other things.

"Tell me something then," Daniel said as he picked up the now-full glass of amber liquid the bartender had slid next dexterously within reach of his left hand. "Why in the world did you name this place 'The Blue Chicken?" Daniel threw back his drink, then almost choked as he started to laugh at his own attempt at humor. He stopped abruptly as he heard Ren say softly, "Great Maker. What are they after?"

Three of the Warriors had risen, smooth and quick, and were at the door to the back rooms before any of the security staff could intercept them. The other two headed for one of the emergency exits, the one beyond the stage at the right side of the restaurant. Daniel guessed they would take up positions outside. It was one of two exits accessible to those in the back rooms, and if they blocked it, and went around to the kitchen exit at the back...well, anyone in the back rooms would have to come this way to get out. It was a neatly executed trap. They made no effort to block the main front entrance, or the one that led from the casino area, although it was possible they didn't know about that one.

"Trouble. I knew this would be trouble." Ren jerked his head at the bartender who slid into the small room behind the bar, which housed a small kitchen and stock area. Daniel could see him punching keys on a comlink, and assumed he was summoning help.

"Ren, can I do anything?" Daniel set down his glass, and found himself wishing he hadn't drunk quite so much of his host's special stock. "Do you know what they want?"

"Bah," said Ren. "They want trouble, as I said." The bartender had returned, and nodded sharply to his boss. Then the Centauri reached under the bar and pulled out two peacemakers, the nonlethal electroshock weapons that were supposedly outlawed on Minbar, but often found their way onto the black market in the alien sector. He tossed one to Ren, who pocketed the small device in his jacket pocket, and slid the other under his bartender's apron.

"They'll be here as soon as they can, Ser. The Ranger at Command Center promised as large a force as could be found." The Centauri's apron twitched as he fingered the weapon. Ren nodded and crossed the floor to the entrance to the rooms behind the stage. Daniel watched as he glanced into the large gaming area, and spoke to the security guard, who went inside and closed the doors behind him. A light came on above the door; it was locked with a magnetic seal. One of the Minbari had gone further into the back, past the casino entrance, and the other two made no effort to stop Ren's isolation of his more well-heeled clients from any disturbance. Daniel exchanged a glance with the bartender, then got up to follow Ren.

"Gentlemen!"

Daniel noted with admiration that the Centauri's booming voice betrayed none of his previous apprehension.

"May I be of some assistance to you?" Ren gestured back towards the bar area. "Perhaps a drink? We carry a wide assortment of non-alcoholic beverages from a variety of worlds. It is, as the humans say, on the house."

One of the Warriors remained motionless, although Daniel recognized the fighting stance he had assumed. The other examined Ren as if he was trying to sort out his status before replying. "No need. Our business will not take long."

Ren cleared his throat. His right hand casually entered his jacket pocket, resting lightly on the peacemaker. "May I ask exactly what business you have here?" He gesticulated with his left hand. "Your party did not seem interested in Moleda's dance, and you ordered neither food nor drink." He chuckled in an attempt to lighten the mood. "I do not encourage the presence of Minbari in the games. Your people are entirely too good at calculating the odds!"

The Warrior who had spoken before smiled grimly. "The odds are that we will be leaving momentarily." As he spoke, Daniel could hear the sounds of a scuffle in the corridor past the casino entrance. The Warrior who had been speaking jerked his head towards the noise, and the other swiftly went towards the sounds, which were now punctuated by a high-pitched voice protesting something.

Daniel swallowed hard. He recognized that voice.

"Let him go! You've got no right to come in here; it's a public place, and you...you...have no authority! My father works for the Earth ambassador to the Interstellar Alliance!"

"Laura?" he called, watching in horror as one of the Minbari 'escorted' the young human into view. The Warrior held her arm tightly, but didn't appear to be hurting her, just making sure she moved in the direction he wanted. Her short blond hair fell in its normal straight lines to her shoulders, but her face was pale and showed her distress. "What are you doing here?" he asked. Then two more Warrior caste Minbari came out from the back; one being escorted in much the same forceful way. He was young, his crest not fully pointed, and he wore the black, red, and silver of the Wind Walker clan, as did the others. Daniel moved to put himself between the Minbari and the human girl. Laura jerked free, and in the confusion, the Warrior dropped her arm. She dodged Daniel's grasp and darted over to the younger Minbari. "Trennor! Are you all right? Don't worry, They can't do this..." Her voice slowed as Trennor turned his head to avoid her gaze. "What is it? I thought we'd agreed..."

Daniel pushed his way through what seemed like a throng of Minbari warriors and reached Laura's side. "What is going on, Laura? Who is this? What do these people want?"

Laura looked at Daniel, speechless in confusion for a moment, then said quickly, "This is my friend Trennor. We were in the back, just...talking, when these..." Here she glared at the Minbari, with a hard glance at the one who had pulled her into the room. "When these 'gentlemen' came bursting in, and grabbed Trennor, and me, and dragged us out here." Her ice-blue eyes flashed as she asked pointedly, "What are you going to do about this, Mr. Lambert? Have you called my father? What about the Rangers?" She grabbed his arm, and shook it. "Do something!"

Daniel spluttered for a moment, then turned to the Minbari who had spoken to Ren, and who seemed to be in charge of the group. "May I ask what you intend to do now? Is this person the one you were looking for?" He pointed at Laura, and said, "Ms. Davidson is under Earth protection. Her father is in the diplomatic group headed by General Wagner. Whatever else happens, she is leaving with me."

The Warrior looked at him with disdain. "We have no wish to have any further contact with this ver'kaff female. Our business is with our clan member. Do not interfere."

Daniel nodded curtly. "I have no wish to intervene in clan matters, Sech. I will take charge of the female, and if we are done here, I will escort her back to her elders, who are no doubt wondering at her absence."

Laura's mouth dropped open, "I'm not going anywhere without Trennor!" She clasped the young Minbari's hands between her own. "You said you were coming with me; that you'd go anywhere, do anything..." Eyes glinting a deeper blue as they filled with tears of pain and rage, she asked, "Are you going back then? Back to them?"

Trennor shook his head, and removing his hands from her grasp, placed one briefly over her heart, "No, sa'fela. Minbari do not lie, and I will keep my pledge." He turned to Daniel, and bowed from the waist. "You work with General Wagner?" At Daniel's nod of agreement, he said firmly, "Then I request asylum. I wish to immigrate. To Earth."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Susan was a few blocks from the restaurant with her small force, when a human dressed in black slid out from the shadows between two buildings and confronted them. "Entil'zha veni, Anla'Shok Na," he said as he opened his black cloak to reveal a Ranger pin.

"God, Jacobs. How do you do that?" Susan's voice was strained but revealed her admiration. "What's going on?"

"Two Warriors outside the right side and back entrances. The left side entrance is open and patrons are leaving, hurried on by some Centauri muscle. I think the Minbari are letting them go; their interests must lie elsewhere inside."

"Any idea what goes on in there?" Susan saw another group of Rangers approaching, and signaled them to join her band. "Or what the Warriors might want?"

Jacobs shook his head. "The people leaving were those in the casino. There's a restaurant and bar in front, along with a small stage. There are rooms in the back that are rented out for private parties, sometimes with some of the dancing girls, sometimes for assignations that require some discretion."

"They've left the front entrance and the casino exit open...maybe something to do with those private rooms? It seems unlikely, but so does the whole situation." Susan gave a series of swift orders to the assembled Rangers. "Secure all the exits, quietly. Nerrell, Sheridan, Teynar, you're with me. I want three more right behind us. Take up positions among the restaurant crowd. If it seems safe, start evacuating the civilians out the front door. Tell 'em to go home or to their hotel, whatever, just get them off the streets."

"Immigration requests are handled at the consulate during regular business hours." Daniel stated calmly while trying to consider all the possible ramifications. Laura left Trennor's side and stood in front of him, five and a half feet of righteous anger. She raged, "I demand you call General Wagner and ask her directly! This can't wait till business hours...they'll haul him back to his family compound and I'll never see him again!"

"Don't you want me to call your father?" Daniel regretted asking the question when he saw how hard it struck the girl. He knew Malcolm Davidson; it wasn't likely he'd welcome a Minbari son-in-law, if that's what this was about. "I'm sorry, Laura, but I need to understand what's going on before I make any promises." He turned to the Warrior and bowed his head respectfully. "I would like to speak with this person and determine his motivation before making this petition to my superior..."

"No!" The Minbari barked. "His motivation matters not. His wishes matter not." Leaning forward, he spoke in a tone iced with menace. "I require his return. The war leader of his clan requires his return. He will return."

"You can't make him go," Laura began, and moving towards the leader of the group of Warriors, she grasped his arm in an attempt to make him pay attention to her. With a shrug, the Minbari tossed her aside. She flew back against the wall of the narrow corridor in which they stood, hitting it with a sickening crack and sliding to the floor.

Daniel charged forward, head lowered, and caught the Warrior in the mid-section. Even though his flexible armor protected him, the attack took him momentarily off guard, and Daniel's momentum managed to bring him down. They both hit the floor, grappling for purchase. Ren pulled out his peacemaker and jammed it into the back of the Minbari holding Trennor. He twitched from the shock, then dropped. Trennor rushed immediately over to Laura. The third Warrior extended a denn'bok and smashed it against Ren's head. The Centauri reeled back against the wall, blood pouring from a wound above his right ear.

"Stop this!" A stentorian voice broke over the group. "The ISA has jurisdiction over this sector of Tuzanoor, and this must cease. Now!"

Everyone froze, just for a moment, then the leader of the Warriors rose from the floor in one motion. "This is an internal Minbari matter, not one for the Anla'Shok or the Alliance to meddle in." His voice was icy with contempt. Daniel lay on his back, trying to recover his breath and focus his blurred vision. A hand reached down to him, and he managed to get to his feet without too much wobbling. "Susan?" he said, trying not to grasp her hand too tightly, "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask the same, Mr. Lambert, but right now I have more pressing matters to attend to." Susan bowed her head slightly to the Warrior. "May I ask your name, so that I may do honor to your caste and clan in this discussion?"

"I am Cathor n'Kiri, Wind Walker clan, Warrior caste. I am here to escort my clan member back to his family compound at the command of War Leader Tranell n'Kiri, also elder of our clan. These..." and here he gestured contemptuously at Daniel and Ren, "These outlanders interfered. We were merely setting them aside in pursuit of our task."

Susan turned to Ren, and asked, "Is this true?"

"Possibly, possibly," replied the Centauri. The bartender had come forward and was swabbing the blood from the three inch gash on his employer's head. "It got a little out of hand, that is all. The young female was overwrought and accidentally got in the way of these gentlemen." He pointed at Laura, who was standing next to Trennor, her hand possessively clutching his forearm.

Susan swiveled her head to take in the sight, and bit the inside of her cheek in lieu of rolling her eyes. "This is your clansmen, Cathor?" To herself, she thought, Oh God. Someone must really have it in for me.

"My name is Trennor," replied the younger Minbari with a dignity and calm of which Susan both appreciated and approved. "Cathor is indeed my elder in the clan, and my cohort answers to his command."

Daniel began to speak, but Susan quelled him with a look and short command, "I'll get to you, Lambert." She looked at Laura's defiant form and asked mildly, "And you are...?"

"I'm Laura Davidson. My father works for General Wagner. Trennor doesn't want to go with these people. He's coming with me, back to Earth. My father..."

"Undoubtedly knows nothing about it." Susan's voice was grim. She looked from Cathor to the young couple. "There are procedures, ways to go about this."

Cathor crossed his arms. "There is no option to consider. Trennor cannot go against his clan."

Susan looked at Daniel. "What's your part in all this?"

"Innocent bystander?" Daniel attempted a smile although it made his mouth and jaw hurt. He could feel a tooth loose in its socket. Cathor had gotten in a good one before the fight had been broken up. Susan's stern expression didn't change, and he added hastily, "I was here when the Minbari came. They went into the back, and returned escorting Ms. Davidson and Trennor. Ms. Davidson is human, and I know her father, so I tried to ascertain what was going on, to ensure her safety. Trennor then requested asylum, and for permission to emigrate to Earth." Susan's face revealed no reaction, so he ended his sketchy description of events, "That's about it."

There was a momentary silence, and Susan looked from one person to another. She turned to her team, "Get names and addresses from anyone's who's still here, then let them go. Arrange first aid for the wounded and call for help if there are any serious injuries. After everyone's out, seal the entrances and exits." Turning to Ren, she said sternly, "I'll have to close your business for a short period while we sort this out. It shouldn't take long." She gestured to Nerrell to come forward, and asked, "Do you know this clan and its leader?"

"I do, Anla'Shok Na." Nerrell waited passively for further questions.

"The War Leader has authority to command Trennor's presence in the compound?" Susan knew the answer, but wanted it established that she was fully considering Minbari tradition.

"He does, Anla'Shok Na," Nerrell paused, then added. "It would be against all custom for a youngling to change his path without the consultation and approval of the elders."

"I see," said Susan. "Cathor, I want your word that you and that one..." Here she pointed at the Warrior who had attacked Ren, "will attend a hearing at Alliance Headquarters where you will answer for your actions here." At Cathor's nod, she went on, "Now take your people and get out of here."

Daniel grabbed her by the arm, and said, "I need to talk to you about this!"

Susan stared at him, then stepped away from the group, saying "Excuse us for a moment." She turned to Daniel and said softly, "What is it?"

"What are you doing?" Daniel hadn't wanted to get involved, but now he was, and he didn't like his interests, and that of Earth, being ignored. "I told you Trennor requested permission to emigrate..."

"He can apply some other time, once things have cooled down." Susan's tone was implacable.

"You know damn well he won't be allowed out of that compound again. Hell, in all likelihood they'll find him an assignment miles from any Alliance presence." He ran his hand through his hair, wincing as his fingernails raked across a rather large bump. "This whole situation took me by surprise, Susan. But we can't let the letter of the law subvert the spirit of it! Freedom of movement is guaranteed under the Alliance constitution!"

Susan shook her head, "But whose laws do we follow, Daniel? I know the alien sector is under Alliance authority, but it's still their planet. Besides, the Alliance also guarantees every member's sovereignty. We can't afford trouble with the Warrior caste right now. Delenn is still negotiating the details of an agreement with them to tone down the insurrection talk." Susan looked over at Laura and Trennor. "That's more important than two individual's happiness. Their problems simply don't matter in comparison with the big picture."

Daniel replied, "Let me talk to first. Laura will raise hell about this. She won't let it rest; it won't be over."

"Yes, it will," said Susan wearily. "Her father won't interfere, you know that. Malcolm Davidson never saw a boat he even thought about rocking. And may wish she could do something, but she won't challenge Delenn, and Delenn will back my decision."

At this, Daniel's face hardened. "All right. I see your point." He walked over to Trennor and Laura, who were waiting, the one with controlled patience, the other with barely concealed agitation. Laura said urgently, "Do something, Mr. Lambert. It's not fair!"

Daniel looked at the two of them and wondered at their relationship. How had they even met, much less had time to become attached to each other, to the extent that one was willing to leave his world and race behind? Suddenly, he leaned forward and whispered to Trennor, "Hit me. Hard. Right now!"

The Minbari hesitated only a fraction of a second, then pulled back his arm and gut-punched the human. With no hesitation, he then chopped the back of the Daniel's neck, dropping him to the ground. Laura screamed and David Sheridan charged forward to pull her clear of the battle, as Nerrell and another Ranger rushed forward to intercept Trennor. Cathor and the other Warriors watched with surprise and interest.

Daniel doubled over, then as he began to rise, Trennor caught him with an uppercut that spun him completely around. Two denn'boks clashed in front of Trennor, separating him from Daniel, who had again fallen, this time to one knee. Blood from his cut lip fell to the floor and pooled there, on top of smears from the recent fighting. He couldn't tell the source of the darkening spots, Minbari or Centauri or human. His voice blurred, but he managed to get out the words, "I demand this Minbari's arrest!"

Susan's mouth tightened, and she asked Daniel, "You're pressing charges, I gather?" Then she turned to Cathor and announced with bitter recognition of her restricted options, "I'm afraid assault on a civilian official of the Interstellar Alliance is an offense I can't ignore." Under her breath, she added, "As much as I'd like to ignore it, or even to join in on it." Turning to David and Nerrell, she said, jerking a thumb at Trennor, "He's coming with us." Daniel had risen shakily to his feet, and Laura broke free from David and threw her arms around Daniel's neck, saying "Thank you, thank you" over and over.

"Take her in too," Susan said frostily. "Her father can pick her up in the holding cells."

"One moment, Anla'Shok Na," said Cathor. He had a tightly rolled scroll of paper in his hand, and he held it out towards her.

"What is this?" Susan asked, surprised and a little wary. She took the paper, unrolled it and read the flowing Minbari script to herself. As she read, her back straightened, and her hands gripped the paper tightly. She looked up at Cathor and said, "You know what is written here?"

Cathor shook his head. "It is a petition, and it comes directly from Tranell. He gave it to me, and told me to use it only if our mission failed." Turning to Trennor, he added, "The others in your cohort will hear of your actions here. You will be informed of their decision." Trennor strove to keep his face neutral, but the others could see that he was shaken.

Susan nodded curtly. "I see. I'll make sure it gets to the right person. And I'll expect you at Headquarters tomorrow or the next day. Check with Command Central for the exact time." She bowed to Cathor, who hesitated, then returned the gesture. He turned and stalked down the main hallway that led to the front entrance. His fellow Warriors fell into place behind him without saying a word.

Daniel looked at Susan. "What does it say?"

"They want Delenn to hear Trennor's petition personally." Susan folded the paper carefully and placed it in an inner pocket of her cloak. She rubbed her temples, wishing for an end to the sudden headache that had attacked once the immediate threat had ended. "Some of the other Alliance members feel Delenn favors the Minbari; they'll push her to defy the Council. If she doesn't, they'll see it as a sign of weakness. And if she does, the Warriors will have a cause for further discontent and a focus for future rebellion. This is just great."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

David spent the short walk back to Headquarters talking with Laura Davidson. Trennor had not spoken again since Cathor's pronouncement, except to request that she honor his need to meditate on what had happened. He had said it kindly, but she had taken it as an admonition, and her unease had led her to confide in the nearest friendly face.

"How in the world did you meet a Warrior caste Minbari, much less become friendly with him?" asked David. He'd seen Laura around the Alliance complex, but his last few months of training had been intensive, and he'd never actually met her. He found himself comparing her ice-blue eyes with the stormy grey of Lerriel's but quickly shut down those thoughts.

"I like to get out of the alien zoo sometimes, and wander around Tuzanoor. The Old City is marvelous. There are ancient temples to the Elder Gods with impossibly thin spires of blue and white and pink, stabbing the sky and ringing in the wind. I toured the Academe Valerian, with its ornate crystal labyrinths built around the famous bluestone fountains. The sent of water surrounds you as you walk the coiled paths. You're surrounded by massive blocks of crystal that loom above you like glaciers, reflecting the stone and the sky until they seem to merge into one essence of blue." For a moment she was silent, as if lost in memory. Then, more practically, she added, "I like the markets better than those imitation ones in the alien sector, too. I get to practice my Adronato when I shop there. One day I wandered too far, and got lost in a section of the city housing the two main Warrior compounds. A group of Warriors challenged my right to be there, and while I was discussing it with them, Trennor happened by. He offered to escort me back to the Alliance complex, and we just...talked. He wanted to hear all about alien worlds, the places I'd been, and I wanted to know more about Minbar, the parts we don't get to see." She fell silent, then added, "After a while I didn't think of him as Minbari. He was just Trennor." Looking up into David's eyes, she searched his face for reaction, favorable or otherwise. "Can you understand that?"

David nodded. "It's like that in the Anla'Shok. No one pays any attention to your name or clan or species; the only thing that matters is your ability to do the job."

Laura smiled at him briefly, but she couldn't conceal her anxiety. "What will happen next?"

"There will be a hearing, testimony will be heard, and Trennor may have to pay a fine or spend some time in the cells for attacking Lambert." At Laura's expression, he hastened to add, "It won't be too bad. And I suppose he can still petition for permission to leave for Earth, even from a cell!"

Hope flared in her eyes, lighting them from within, and David found himself wishing he could inspire that kind of emotion in someone.

Laura said, almost gaily, "That's right! And here we are..." Looking around, she spotted Trennor ahead of them, walking with Nerrell as guard. "I have to say good-bye now, David. Thank you so much for listening." She ran lightly ahead, and placing her hand on Trennor's arm, she reached up to whisper something in his ear. As Nerrell thumbed the lock on the side entrance to the Ranger compound, she watched as Trennor was escorted inside. Daniel, who had been walking with Susan, although unable to engage her in conversation, hastened forward to take Laura's arm. "I'll take you to your father, Laura," he said, and after a wistful glance back at Susan, he left for the main Alliance complex, which was connected to that of the Rangers by a series of formal gardens and walled retreats.

Once inside, Susan gave orders that Trennor be checked in and remanded to the holding area, then she left hurriedly to report the evening's events directly to Delenn. David simply shook his head when she asked if he was coming. "I'll be along. Tell Mother I won't be too late." Susan nodded and left.

Nerrell quickly and efficiently dealt with the formalities; taking a photo and retinal scan for the records, then searching Trennor for weapons and contraband. He took the Minbari to a cell, while David chatted with the Ranger cadet on duty in the Command Center. She was a petite Narn, who had the serious demeanor of some members of that race, and David amused himself trying to make her laugh.

Nerrell returned, and relieved Na'dreth of her duty, sending her back to the dorm. David lingered for a moment, then idly asked Nerrell, "What do you think will happen to him?"

Nerrell looked up from the comstation where he had entered his identicard to switch control back to himself. Checking the security screens briefly, he turned to David and answered, "I do not know. It is not our way to leave our own people and live among others, even now."

"What about the Anla'Shok? There are members from many races now, not just Minbari, or Minbari and humans?" David looked closely at Nerrell. The Warrior had completed his first quarter's training, but he'd been fast-tracked after initial assessments. His background gave him advantages in weapons training and all forms of combat, and the Anla'Shok didn't waste time on re-teaching someone the basics when it was unnecessary. David remembered that first year vividly; the long hours spent in silent meditation, the tests and trials that didn't make sense at the time, but were meant to evaluate all aspects of a Ranger's suitability for admission to the Anla'Shok. His own certification was only months away now.

"The Anla'Shok are different. In many clans, elders are still reluctant to permit petition for admission to the ranks. It is viewed as a hardship...a necessary evil, if you understand. Among the Warriors, the Rangers are looked down upon, as substandard fighters; their will and drive subverted by too much religious training." Nerrell cocked his head and looked up at David. "If Trennor does leave, he will be alone, adrift without access to his family, his clan, and his caste. I do not envy him. He will have no purpose, no goal. What will he do?"

"He'll have to make his own way, I guess." David laughed briefly."I think I would like that. No expectations, no one to answer to..."

"No one to care?" said Nerrell.

"Well, that girl seemed to care. Maybe that's enough," answered David.

Nerrell shook his head. "Love without duty. Life without responsibility. It is not Minbari."

David smiled, and simply said, "I'd better be getting back. Entil'zha veni, Nerrell."

"Entil'zha veni, Sheridan," came the reply as Nerrell turned back to his screens.

David walked through the mostly empty corridors to the lifts that would take him to the connecting skyway that led to the Alliance building and his home. Once, when his mother had come out with one of her enigmatic sayings in lieu of a reasonable explanation, he had stormed at his father that he would never understand her in particular, or the Minbari in General. His father had laughed softly, and replied. "I'm only beginning to understand what I don't understand about the Minbari." John Sheridan had smiled crookedly at his son, and said, "Not that it matters. Understand her or not, I love her just the same.""

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Trennor filed the paperwork for his emigration request with the Earth diplomatic offices the next day. Daniel sighed when it reached his desk. He'd already had a stormy discussion with Malcolm Davidson that morning. Malcolm had not been especially interested in his daughter's affaire de coeur, or inclined to encourage it. Still, a form was a form, and his job was to deal with them, not to judge their worth. It was just after lunch when General Wagner called him into her office. She held what looked suspiciously like an immigration petition in her hand.

"What is this all about?" said General Wagner. She slapped the paper down on a shifting pile of budget sheets and data pads on her desk. The desktop was uncharacteristically messy, and Daniel found himself wondering what else was bothering his superior, who was usually orderly to the point of obsession. He observed her closely. The uniform was as neat and clean as usual, but the dark helmet of hair that framed her oval face was disarrayed, and he noticed a tea stain on the usually immaculate white cuff of her uniform shirt.

"You mean the Minbari's emigration request?" Daniel had been out of the military a long time, but standing in front of Wagner always made him want to snap to attention. He fought the impulse, and waited for an answer.

"Can we make use of this? Our intelligence on the Minbari, particularly on the Warrior caste, is minimal. And even though we're on the same side now, knowledge is always a good thing." Gerry tapped out a tattoo on the desk with her right hand. "I think this...Trennor, is it? I think he would be a productive and useful citizen of Earth. Don't you?"

"General, I'm not sure this is a good idea. We don't know how the Minbari will react...or whether the boy is even serious about leaving."

"Hardly a boy, even by Minbari standards." Gerry looked down at the paper. "This clan he belongs to...Wind Walkers? Are they an offshoot of the Wind Swords?"

Daniel kept his face under control. "Actually I believe the Wind Walkers are the older clan. They are a small clan, land-poor, and have been overwhelmed by the larger and more active Wind Swords, who diverged from them centuries ago." He stopped to choose his words carefully. The Wind Swords had a reputation among EarthForce, that of fierce adversaries who didn't hesitate to use any and all methods against their enemies. There were as many human officers who admired them as there were that feared them. "Why do you ask?"

General Wagner's eyes were opaque as she gazed at Daniel. "No particular reason." Changing the subject, she said, "I had Malcolm in here this morning. He's requested a transfer."

"Back to Earth?" asked Daniel. He wondered whether Malcolm had even told Laura about it.

"Yes. Although you'd think he'd want to take her anywhere else after this." She shuffled some papers around on her desk. "Not my problem, thank God. I only have to think of what's best for Earth." Gerry picked up the paper, and signed it with a flourish. "File this with the Council, and with the Alliance. Then get down to the Ranger's compound and bail out our new citizen. I assume you'll be dropping the assault charges you filed against him."

"Not a citizen yet," replied Daniel, taking custody of the paper. "And I actually think he might prefer to stay safely in the holding cells until this goes through. Poor guy might not have anywhere to go."

"Leave it up to him. We'll give him somewhere to go," Gerry smiled up at Daniel. "After all, the Alliance is one big happy family."

Daniel left the general's office with a feeling of unease that increased by the minute.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"When is the hearing?" asked Susan. She'd already been at work for two hours when the call had come in from Delenn's office requesting a meeting.

"It will be held in two days. First you must deal with the Warriors who caused the trouble last night. Cathor must be at the emigration hearing, as the representative of his clan. Others will want to attend as well the charges against Trennor must be presented, and that issue decided. " Delenn sat in a chair behind a simple desk consisting of a solid piece of crystal supported by thin silver legs. Her posture was typically upright yet graceful, but tension showed in her hands and eyes.

Susan stood by a window looking out over the gardens. She turned her gaze to the clean green lines of manicured turf, and asked, "What's the problem? I mean, besides the fact that the Warrior caste is looking for any reason to make you look bad?"

"I believe they have found one." Delenn's voice was serious, and held a tremor of some deep emotion.

Susan looked over in concern. "What is it now?" she demanded. When she had taken over leadership of the Anla'Shok after John's departure; she'd known she would be working closely with Delenn. She hadn't expected to feel so protective of her; but Delenn was family now, along with David.

"It's a formal request for the Alliance to recognize Minbar's disallowance of the right of Departure and Return. It's signed by five of the nine members of the Grey Council." Delenn laid the thick piece of paper down on the table. "This is a direct challenge to the authority of the Alliance. If this becomes law, both immigration and emigration will be restricted. Not that there were many Minbari re-locating in any case, but it is symbolic. It would also become more difficult to obtain permits for Alliance personnel to come and go...and I believe they mean to restrict other aliens even further. It will make our mission more challenging." She sighed, "It is not that I wish to see Minbar change...I love my world, and my people. But sometimes, they make it difficult."

"I'll say," replied Susan grimly. "They want us gone, and they plan to close the borders behind us. I'm surprised they haven't built a wall."

Delenn smiled tautly, "I would not be surprised to discover there are already plans to erect one. Our charter allows member worlds to set their own immigration policies, but there are restrictions to allow for free movement and trade. After all, it is part of the purpose of the Alliance to foster cross-cultural exchange in the interests of peace, continuing the mission of the Babylon Five station." She mused aloud, "The headquarters in Tuzanoor is established in the IA's original founding document. Is the Council preparing to ask us to leave? Or are they considering removing Minbar from the Alliance?"

"Surely not." Susan said, shocked. "I thought the Grey Council ate out of your hand."

Delenn's face lit with appreciation of the human phrase. "Like a tame animal, is that your meaning? They have never been that. And I would not want them to be. Their purpose is to serve the people of Minbar, not the needs of the Alliance. I must simply

help them to see that our purposes, and the means to achieve them, coincide."

Susan raised one eyebrow and expostulated, "Better you than me! Besides," she added encouragingly, "There's no way they can resist your arguments."

Delenn looked back at her, laughter tugging at her lips. "I will do my best to justify your belief in my persuasive abilities."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The hearing into the events at La Scalla commenced at 0900 the following morning. The Warriors had arrived, exactly on time, and took their seats in the front on the left hand side. Susan was already present, seated behind a curved desk facing out into the room. There were two Minbari to her right; one Zhadrenn from the Warrior caste, although a separate clan from that of Cathor and the others, and Sendal from the office of the Elder of Tuzanoor, who governed the city under the authority of the High Council of Minbar, which reported directly to the Grey Council. To her left was the Ranger's legal counsel, Robert Sawyer. He would rule on any interpretation of Alliance law that was questioned by anyone present. In the seats on the right hand side of the room were scattered other witnesses and interested parties; Ren Olto, Malcolm and Laura Davidson, David Sheridan and Nerrell, along with a few other Rangers who had been present. Trennor had been brought in by two guards, who sat on either side of him in the back row. Laura had craned her head around to smile at the Minbari, but her father had spoken to her in a hurried whisper, and after that she trained her eyes reluctantly forward.

Susan called the hearing to order. She read out the charges against the Warriors, then asked Ren to approach the front, as the injured party. Leaning forward, she asked, "What penalty do you ask?"

Ren shook his head. "No one was hurt, and I have no wish to pursue this further. Have their clan reimburse me for the minor damage done and also pay me one night's average earnings in reparation for lost income. That will suffice."

Susan spoke again, "The Alliance has authorized me to drop the charges of disturbing the peace, and threatening the public." Looking to either side, and after receiving nods of agreement from the panel, she spoke to Cathor directly, "It is the judgment of this panel that your clan pay reparations on your behalf to the owner of the establishment as requested. If you accept this judgment, our business is concluded."

Cathor rose, placed one hand on his heart, and gave Susan a stiff bow. She rose and repeated the gesture, then announced, "This panel is dismissed."

As the witnesses filed out, Susan turned to Robert and said, "One down, one to go."

She watched grimly as Malcolm Davidson yanked Laura past Trennor without allowing her a word, noting that Trennor didn't meet Laura's eyes, instead staring straight ahead as his guards escorted him out a side door and back to the holding area. Susan had been relieved when the Minbari had rejected the initial offer of bail from the Earth government office. The waiver of the assault charge against Trennor had been received just before she'd left for this hearing. She'd speak with Trennor when she got back; she hoped he would accept her offer to stay in the Ranger compound till tomorrow. It was less trouble all around if Trennor stayed isolated until this was all over, one way or the other.

Once she was outside the conference room, Laura Davidson jerked away from her father and stalked rapidly down the corridor. Catching up with David Sheridan, she took his arm and pulled him aside. "Can I talk to you? Privately, I mean?" Nerrell, who had been walking with David, said, "I need to get back to the Command Center. Entil'zha veni, Sheridan. Secha Davidson." He bowed to both, and left them. Malcolm Davidson had already disappeared; the corridor was empty

"How can I help you?" David asked, puzzled. He barely knew Laura, having seen her only a couple of times prior to the altercation at La Scalla, at the occasional diplomatic functions he attended with his mother.

"I need to get into Trennor's hearing. It's been closed to outsiders, and I want to hear the arguments at least. I don't know, maybe they'll let me make a plea on his behalf."

Laura's face was white with strain, and David couldn't help but feel sympathy for the girl. She was about his age, and obviously head-over-heels in love with the wrong person. He had to fight his growing tendency to identify with her plight. "I don't know how I can help you then. And I didn't know they'd closed any of the hearings today."

"Not today's hearing! Daniel Lambert will drop the charges he filed; he's under orders to. I mean the emigration petition tomorrow. Delenn herself is going to preside, and General Wagner will be attending, as well as Tranell of the Warrior caste. It's a tricky situation, and they don't want witnesses to whatever compromise they come up with. But it's not just a delicate political decision, not to me. It's my life."

Her words were phrased dramatically, but David heard the sincerity behind them. He hesitated, and she pressed him again

"Isn't there some way?" She folded her arms around herself, as if trying to keep her emotions trapped inside.

David thought rapidly. What could it hurt for her to watch, especially when the outcome meant so much to her...it wasn't like he'd be letting her into the hearing room itself. "Meet me in the Alliance HQ library, on the third floor, before the hearing. When is it scheduled?"

"Early. 0800 I think. They want to leave enough time for discussion." Laura's voice was tinged with bitterness. "Not that they'll let me talk, or even Trennor probably. This will be decided by our elders and betters."

"All right," said David. "Mother will leave by 0730, and I'll meet you there about fifteen minutes before they start so we can get into position."

"The library isn't connected to the main conference room," Laura said, confused by his directions.

David smiled. "I know lots of ways around this building. I grew up here, remember?" Memory sparked, he went on, "As a kid I found several places to hide from my tutors...it was always a plus if I could watch my parents at work at the same time. There's a storage closet in the back of the library that opens into both rooms. The door will be guarded, but there's a ventilation shaft, high up. Voices come through clearly, and you can see the main dais in the front and the whole left side of the room. You'll have to promise me you'll stay quiet. This could get me in quite a bit of trouble."

"Oh I will! I just want to see them, to hear what they say. To see who makes the decision, and their reasons as to why."

Her voice was steel-edged, and David was startled to realize she sounded quite a bit like his mother.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The next morning Delenn left, just after 0730, just as David had predicted. He'd wandered out to have breakfast with his mother, and although he was distracted by the thought of his upcoming excursion, he still noticed how tense she was. For a moment, he felt a pang of guilt, like he was taking sides against her. No matter the issue, no matter the position he'd taken, no matter what difficulties he'd gotten into; he'd always known when it came down to it, his mother was on his side. It was just the two of them now, and he knew she wouldn't approve of what he was doing. Still, he was old enough to make his own decisions, and it wasn't that important after all. He and Laura were just going to observe the proceedings.

Delenn had welcomed the diversion of breakfast with her son before the upcoming hearing. It was sure to be fractious, and she had to strike a delicate balance between individual rights and collective responsibilities among several competing interest. David was a little quiet, but perhaps that was due to his upcoming graduation. Taking the final vows of the Anla'Shok deserved serious consideration. On the other hand, maybe he was thinking of his recent dinner date with Lerriel. With all that had been happening, she had not been around much to discuss it with him, if he even wanted to do so. John had warned her when David was young that he might go through a period of rebellion as an adolescent. This was a foreign concept to her; any rebellious thoughts a young Minbari entertained were kept internal. Discord and disagreement were not qualities either admired or encouraged in her people. But John had been right; David might had been raised in the Minbari culture, but he was not Minbari.

"Shouldn't you be going, Mother?"

David was looking at her, his face was so serious, and so like his father's that she felt her heart stop for a moment. She searched his eyes, wondering what was going on in his mind, and realizing that she would know less and less of his thoughts as time went on. It was part of the process, and still it hurt a bit, this letting go. "I should. Do you have any plans for the day? I'm afraid I do not know how long this meeting will take, but I would like to have dinner with you this evening if that is possible."

"I still have a week of leave left...there will be plenty of time," David began, but he saw her eyes drop away, and he noticed once again the gathering of grey in her hair. "But tonight would be great," he went on warmly. "I'll cook, if you like."

"I would like that very much," Delenn said sincerely. "You may have to check what is available in the kitchen, however. I'm afraid I generally order in my evening meal, and keep only minimal supplies on hand."

"No problem," said David. "Maybe I'll go shopping this afternoon. I haven't been to the Old City markets in ages."

They beamed at each other, momentarily united by memories of joint excursions, shared meals, and the threads of family life. Then Delenn rose, and went to gather what she needed for the day, and David went to his room to don civilian garb in preparation for his expedition with Laura.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Trennor requested that Nerrell escort him to the hearing. The two Warriors had spent some time in conversation the previous day. As the day had worn on, Trennor had grown increasingly nervous. Nerrell had noticed, and requested permission to allow Trennor access to the Ranger's training room. Once Nerrell was off duty, he and Trennor had sparred for a few hours. In the process the beginnings of a bond had been formed.

"You left your clan to join the Rangers," Trennor stated as blocked Nerrell's denn'bok thrust. "Did you petition them first?"

"I applied according to tradition, but as I was already accepted and in training I did not attend the ceremony in person. My parents spoke on my behalf. There was a spirited discussion, I am told. But eventually the elders agreed to release me from my clan obligations, and allow my petition to join the Anla'Shok." Nerrell neatly disarmed the younger Warrior, and paused to allow Trennor to pick up his weapon again. "Even with their blessing, it has been difficult. I left my cohort behind, and even though I have found a new kind of brotherhood in the Anla'Shok, it is not the same."

"No," replied Trennor. "I do not see how it can be." Downing his pike, he leaned on the extended metal rod. "I do love her, you know. I see no way to be with her here. And I long to see other worlds. Perhaps we will find some modicum of acceptance among her people. If not, we will go elsewhere."

Nerrell nodded. "I can see that your heart is with her." He sighed, "Your certainty is admirable. In a short time I will take the vow of the Anla'Shok and renounce my ties to clan and caste. Yet at times I still have doubts. I have prayed and meditated, trying to determine if this is the right course." He smiled wryly at Trennor's expression. "This does not come naturally to a Warrior, but I persevere."

Trennor flipped his wrist in a complex motion, and his pike collapsed then extended to half-length. "Let us try the cahel'ri." As Nerrell mimicked the motion and assumed a stance half-facing his opponent, Trennor continued, "Why did you join the Anla'Shok in that case? If you were not sure?"

Nerrell feinted to the right, but Trennor blocked it easily. The Ranger said thoughtfully, "I decided that I need not be certain of the path, only of the goal."

Trennor probed Nerrell's defenses, and found them more than adequate. "And what is your goal?"

"The good of our people. Especially that of our caste. After what happened, the attacks in the city; I underwent a change of heart. I saw that a change of direction was needed. And Delenn...she was nothing like I had been taught to expect." Nerrell reached inside Trennor's guard and tapped his side.

Trennor flinched but resumed a protective stance, fending off Nerrell's second blow. "I have never seen her. "

"You will tomorrow. She will preside at your hearing. It is very unusual." Nerrell stepped back and raised his half-pike in salute of the move, then moved back into attack position.

"I wish I could say that I am looking forward to it," Trennor replied wryly. Then, struck by something in Nerrell's tone, asked, "Unusual? Then why is she doing it?"

"I am not certain. But I would give you some advice, my friend..." Nerrell stepped in close and deftly administered two blows to Trennor's mid-section. He continued his warning, "Listen carefully to the witnesses on every side. Watch their faces. Humans can, and will, lie in a good cause, but the truth lurks behind their eyes. There are many forces colliding here, and I do not think it will end well."

Trennor made a sudden shift, swiftly moving behind Nerrell and bringing his weapon down on the Ranger's crest. Nerrell dropped to one knee, and Trennor paused, from his position above, to ask, "If you fear for our caste's fate, why follow this path? Did you need to leave our caste in order to save it?"

"I believe that I serve our people best here. The Anla'Shok are still Minbari. I hope to preserve the essence of our traditions even as they inevitably change." Nerrell extended his pike in a rapid motion, and swept it in a half-circle, toppling Trennor to the floor. He rose and pointed his pike at his opponent's throat. "What are the four highest forms of service?"

Trennor swallowed and said, as if by rote, "Service to clan, service to caste, service to the people, service to the self."

Nerrell didn't move. "And what does service to the self entail?"

"To discover the calling of your heart, and to follow where it leads." Trennor's voice faltered as the point of Nerrell's pike probed his throat.

"Neroon was of my father's clan. As he died in the StarFire Wheel, his final words were 'Follow her.' And I do." Nerrell said sadly, "Be careful in your choice, Trennor."

Trennor made the signal of surrender, and sat up, rubbing his side which still stung from the first blow. "I would like to return to my cell. I need some time to reflect before tomorrow." His expression was troubled, reflecting the turmoil in his heart.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The main library in the IA headquarters was an imposing room, with high ceilings and tall windows of frosted crystal which brightened the room without letting in the more damaging parts of the spectrum. The books, scrolls, data crystals, and information stored on spools of fine wire filled the shelves and cabinets of the room. It was a closed resource, only available to IA employees, select diplomatic personnel, and those of the Anla'Shok who wished to use it.

David got to the library just on time, but Laura was nowhere to be seen. He loitered around the entrance for a few minutes, then decided to go inside and see if she was waiting there. She probably had access through her father's position. The room was busy, but also intensely quiet. His mother said this gathered silence was a common attribute of libraries on all worlds. He circled the main reading area, walking slowly around the central table, circular with a hollow interior, with nine pendant lights spaced over it. As he headed back towards the door to check for Laura, he spied a Minbari standing by the window, carefully examining a scroll crumbling at the edges.

"Lerriel?" He went over, suddenly glad to see her. It had only been a couple of days since their dinner date, but it seemed much longer. "Doing some research?"

Lerriel smiled up at him, and his heart flipped over. She put down the scroll, and bowed a greeting. "Your mother granted me access to this place. The records here are amazing; so many details of the early days of the Alliance. All the history of the Anla'Shok. I am very grateful for the opportunity."

"I'll be sure and tell her you are taking advantage of it." He couldn't help his eyes sliding past her towards the door.

"Are you waiting for someone?" she asked. "I will not keep you..."

"No!" he replied quickly, then "I mean yes, that is, I am waiting for someone, but I have some time." He leaned casually against the window, and said, "We still have to finish that vid...that is, if you are interested in seeing the end."

"I would like that," Lerriel replied. "It was an fascinating glimpse of old Earth history, and a window on the human culture of the time."

"I thought it was sad," said David.

"Much of life is sad," replied Lerriel seriously. "Especially in times of discord and strife. Happiness can be found in finding what needs done, and in doing it well." A brief smile fluttered over her lips. "And in other things."

David cleared his throat, which had become suddenly dry, but before he could say anything, he spied Laura outside the front door of the library.

He saw that she had inserted a card into the key slot, and entered when the doors slid open. Hurrying over to him, she said rapidly, "Sorry I'm late, but it was hard to get away unseen..." Her voice tapered off as she noticed Lerriel. She said, in a polite but definitive tone, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but David and I have an appointment."

Lerriel nodded to her coolly. "Of course." She turned to David, and said, "You may contact me at the temple if you wish." Picking up the scroll she had abandoned, she walked away from the two of them, back stiff, but her movements still full of grace.

"Oh hell," Laura said. "I didn't mean to break things up like that. It's just that it's already started, and I don't want to miss anything."

"It's all right," said David, swallowing his annoyance. "I was just waiting for you to get here." He gestured towards the back of the large room, past the tall windows. "Let's go."

Towards the back of the room, behind a large shelf filled with scrolls, there was a door, half-hidden by a cart filled with dusty rolls of thick paper. David eased the cart away, and gently opened the door. Behind it was a large storage area, with more carts, comstations in various stages of disrepair, and shelves crammed with spools and folders stuffed with sheets of plastics.

Laura stared around her. "What a mess! Somehow I never imagined the Minbari would have closets like this."

David grinned at her. "Every race has some version of the junk drawer. Even the Minbari."

He pointed at a doorway in the back, and the slotted metal grid above it. "The door's normally kept locked, but you can hear everything. You can even sort of see through the ventilation opening. Here," and he pulled over a short metal ladder, positioned it in front of the door, and bowed towards her, "Ladies first."

Laura smiled at him, and went up the two steps. David started to ask her whether she could see, but she gestured to him to be quiet. "Shh. They've started. Delenn is speaking."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Can we call this meeting to order, please?" Delenn's voice raised above the discussion that was ranging around the room.

Tranell of the Warrior caste was sitting across from Delenn, with Cathor to his left. Susan Ivanova was next to Delenn, seat set back from the table so she had a clear view of the room, and especially of the Minbari across the table. On Ivanova's right was General Wagner, with Daniel Lambert across from her, next to the Minbari. He was taking notes on a datapad, with occasional translations of the more colorful asides from Cathor, who seemed to have decided to be friendly with the human.

Trennor sat on a chair apart from the central table, alone and apart. His face was expressionless, and he looked straight ahead, only focusing on whomever was speaking to him at the time. His hands rested on his thighs, and he remained motionless but seemingly relaxed, as if the tribunal in front of him was of no particular concern.

There was a small audience of mixed races; envoys from other Alliance member races, elders from both the religious and worker castes, and a few Rangers. Everyone there had either been invited or requested permission to attend. Delenn would have preferred a completely closed hearing, but whatever was decided, witnesses were needed to correct any misinterpretations, whether accidental or intentional.

After a brief introduction, Delenn asked Daniel Lambert to read Trennor's petition aloud. The long and precise legal document helped to settle the crowd, as they relaxed into the familiarity of formality. When Daniel finished, she turned to Trennor.

"Is this petition reflective of the true desire of your heart?" Her voice was not loud, but the word were clearly pronounced and the tone sober.

"Yes," the Minbari answered briefly, but respectfully.

"Have you performed the traditional Ritual of Request to your clan?" Delenn kept her eyes on Trennor, and noted that his eyes flicked over to Tranell, who did not speak.

"I have not," replied Trennor.

"Was this a deliberate omission?" Delenn asked carefully, then added, "Do you wish to make a formal request at this time?" Looking towards Tranell, she said politely, "I would be happy to grant a delay to allow for your ritual."

"I do not," said Trennor, turning away from Delenn to face Tranell. "As I am certain of the answer, and of my own right to ignore it, I see no need for delay."

Cathor looked as if he were about to jump out of his seat and confront the young Minbari, but Tranell laid a hand on his arm. He cleared his throat, and said, in a deep forceful voice. "May I speak, Madame President?"

"Of course," replied Delenn, inclining her head in a graceful bow.

Susan tensed as Tranell got to his feet. He looked as if he was getting ready to make a speech, not an attack, but you could never be sure. His formal robes were dark red, lined and slashed with silver, but black armor was visible behind them as he moved. She noted with approval the breakaway clasp at the top of the robes. He could throw them aside in an instant to free his striking arm, or even wind them around the other for a makeshift shield against attack. It was a good design.

Keeping her eyes on the Warriors, both of them, she felt Delenn's stillness, an almost palpable gravity. A lot rode on this hearing, according to Delenn. Susan still didn't see that it mattered much; it was another movement along a path she had come to see as inevitable. Her job right now was to make sure the hearing stayed peaceful, and that nothing happened to Delenn. The rest of it she would deal with when it became her problem, a military or security issue.

Tranell started by giving his name, rank, and clan designation. He continued, "The Wind Walkers wish me to oppose this petition, which was wrongfully submitted and wrongfully received. A Warrior owes both duty and respect to his clan."

"A true Warrior does not merely follow orders, but uses his mind and heart to decide his true path." Trennor's voice was clear and unwavering, in the face of what must have felt like immense disrespect on his part.

Tranell replied, "The young must be guided by their elders, and render them the respect they have earned. Their paths are laid out for them until they are wise enough to see their own way."

Susan sighed to herself. They could go on like this for hours, arguing their respective case elliptically and indirectly. Trennor had refused legal assistance or help presenting his case; not that any was likely to be any forthcoming from his clan, or even anyone of his caste. She had offered him the use of Anla'Shok counsel, but he had declined. It was probably the better decision. If he couldn't explain his own reasoning to the elders, he would be judged too immature to make decisions.

The two Minbari had fallen silent for a moment, and just then, General Wagner spoke up. "I would like to speak for Earth."

"This does not concern your world, General." Tranell practically barked at her.

"Of course it does," Gerry replied frostily. "Trennor wants to become a citizen of the Earth Federation. Earth is not afraid of other cultures; in fact, we welcome them..."

"There was a time when you did not," Tranell shot back.

"We outgrew that phase, a long time ago," replied Gerry, a hint of superiority in her tone. "Earth has few restrictions on immigration. There are more limits on true citizenship, of course, but anyone can apply. There's none of this song and dance. Apply, undergo a background check, take a test, and you're accepted."

A muscle jumped in Tranell's cheek. "It may have escaped your notice, General, but you are not on Earth."

"True," replied Gerry. "But we're not exactly on Minbar either. The Alliance set the rules here, not you, and not me either." She turned to Delenn. "How much more do you need to hear to make your ruling?"

Susan clenched her jaw to keep from saying anything rash. It was not particularly diplomatic of Gerry to force the issue. These hearings generally went on all day; the Minbari weren't going to like this. She glanced over at Daniel, who was keeping his head down and his expression blank. The man knew what a mess his boss was making of this. Susan wished he'd made more effort to instruct Gerry in Minbari ways. "General Wagner," Susan interjected. "The Alliance defers to the traditions of the petitioner's world, insofar as they do not conflict with our charter." As you well know, she added to herself.

"I understand that, Ivanova. But Minbar has an open travel policy, doesn't it? This is not a usual situation, but shouldn't it just be a formality?" Gerry looked pointedly at Delenn as she spoke.

Susan bit the inside of her cheek but tried not to react to the implied disrespect. She looked at Delenn to see if she would answer, and whether she would bring up the Council's recent decision.

Delenn looked at the paper under her hands, wondering how she could negotiate a path through this thicket of conflicting interests. The Warrior caste wanted a reason to continue their opposition and bolster the case for their eventual revolt. The Grey Council wanted to assert their authority over Minbar, avoid conflict within the castes, and express their disapproval of the Alliance's presence and power. General Wagner seemed to want to expedite the immigration to Earth of this particular Minbari, and that enthusiasm she found most interesting. The other races were waiting to see if she would challenge the Council and support the Alliance's ideals, or whether she would give in to her own people's demands.

"The Grey Council has petitioned to restrict the type of emigration request you are making, but I hereby rule that their request is too late to affect this case." Delenn directed her words to Trennor, but her words caused a small stir in the audience. The various Alliance members weren't certain what this meant for the future, and there was some impromptu betting on the sidelines on whether the Council or Delenn would eventually prevail. Turning to General Wagner, Delenn said, "This is a formal request, and as you have noted, an unusual one. I'm afraid you will have to respect our traditions in this matter. There are methods of discussion that honor both sides in a dispute, and it would be disrespectful to cut them short. If you wish to attend to other matters in the interim, I would be happy to send someone to let you know when my decision is ready to be announced." Delenn smiled graciously at the human, and gave her a carefully graduated bow of the head, simultaneously acknowledging Gerry's position in the Earth hierarchy while reinforcing her own superior one as President of the Alliance.

Gerry smiled back, teeth flashing white in her ivory skin, eyes narrowed and calculating. "I wouldn't dream of forgoing the discussion. It is an opportunity to learn more about your people, Madame President, and it is also my duty."

Tranell was still standing, and pointedly remarked to the air. "May I continue, then?"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The conversation droned on through the morning, cut and block, thrust and parry. David could hear everything that was being said, but he frankly found most of it of little interest. Trennor didn't speak often, and the others talked around him; sometimes as if he wasn't there, at other time they seemed to be actively courting him. Laura didn't say anything, just remained on her perch, her posture strained but perfectly still. His thoughts turned back to Lerriel, wondering if he could somehow explain why he was spending the day in a supply closet with a human girl. Probably not, he thought glumly; after all, he wasn't supposed to be here at all. David found himself listening mainly when Trennor spoke. The Minbari was courageous, he'd give him that. He was holding his own against some heavy hitters in the rhetorical department. Leaving Minbar was something David looked forward to with anticipation, but if Trennor won his case, it was likely the Minbari would never return home again. That led David to thoughts of his father, and John Sheridan's long sojourn on Minbar after the Alliance had moved there. David had often wondered what his own life would have been like if his parents had stayed on Earth, or the Alliance headquarter had been built somewhere else. To the casual eye he knew he looked human; but his parentage set him apart. That would probably have been true anywhere, he supposed.

Suddenly his attention slammed back to the here and now. Laura had sprung off the ladder and flung it aside, and was pulling at the recessed handle of the locked door. "What is it?" he asked, pulling her away from the door. The last thing he wanted was for them to be discovered.

"Didn't you hear? Your mother is about to make her decision! I want to get in there; to see him, to tell them...oh, be quiet! Listen!" Laura shoved back against David, then went silent, her face pale and glistening with beads of sweat as she strained to hear.

"I think I have heard enough." Delenn's voice was low, but pitched to cut through the discordant hum of those who were still talking. Everyone stopped speaking, and looked expectantly towards her, awaiting her decision.

Letting silence fill the small chamber, Delenn considered her next words carefully. The safe thing to do was to deny Trennor's petition. It would cause the least immediate harm, and might mollify some among the Warrior caste. On the other hand, there were members of the Alliance who considered the Minbari had too much influence on her. They had worried when she assumed the Presidency, and they had worried even more when John had gone away. The Grey Council's pronouncement would only make them worry all the more. The Alliance members liked change almost as much as the Council, or the Warriors.

Then there were the two central characters in this drama. Only one was present, but throughout the hearing, Delenn had tried not to forget the human female who had managed to befriend and then captivate a Warrior caste Minbari. Delenn thought that Laura Davidson must be quite formidable, and a part of her wished to smooth the path for these two unlikely lovers. Trennor sat patiently, awaiting her judgment, his eyes raised to meet hers directly, against all tradition. She found herself wishing, not for the first time, that she could talk to John. He had a talent for making decisions and never looking back.

John had told her once, and only once, about his trip to Z'ha'dum. Kosh had given him direction at the fatal juncture, which had led him to Lorien, and hence back to life. The option the Vorlon had offered was desperate and seemingly final, but John had taken it, in what he described to her later as a leap of faith. He had told her that there were times when you had to let go, to simply trust in other people. Looking at Trennor's open face; troubled, honest, and honorable, she decided to stop trying to control the situation. She would place her faith in the Universe and in the traditions of the Warrior caste; traditions of honor and responsibility. Speaking to Trennor, she said firmly, "You are young, but you are able to make your own decision. I will abide by it; if you wish to go, I will approve the petition."

Trennor looked first at Tranell, meeting the elder Warrior's eyes, cold as stone but with a lurking, licking flame of war-thirst deep within them. He then turned his head to look at General Wagner, who met his gaze with a swift nod and a taut smile. The human's expression seemed friendly, but the eyes were hooded and the smile curved slightly like that of a preem'shak in sight of easy prey.

He looked at his hands, his own hands, in which his fate, and that of at least one other, rested. Taking a deep breath, he looked back up at Delenn. "I have decided to submit to the will of my cohort and of my clan, whether they accept me back or not." He swallowed hard, and continued. "I withdraw my petition, Madame President. I wish to stay."

"No!"

David didn't have time to stop Laura as she bolted out the door that led back into the library. She was out the main entrance in a flash, and he followed swiftly, hoping to waylay her before she burst into the conference room and made a scene. As he ran, he remembered the look on the girl's face, and a smoldering anger began to burn deep inside of him. He knew what it was like to have your fate decided by others. The first time he had openly rebelled against his parents, he had stolen and opened the urn containing a Drakh Keeper. The removal of the creature had left scars on the side of his neck that remained hidden under the high necked shirts he favored. They flamed red when he was angry and he felt them burning now. He would never forget whisper of the thing from within the sealed urn, its' intimate knowledge of his needs and fears, and the triumphant hiss as it sank its spines into his shoulder and took control of his body. The feeling of being a puppet, controlled by others' decisions, others' actions, had always infuriated him. That was one thing he loved about being Anla'Shok. A Ranger was expected to walk alone, to act in concert with others when necessary, but always to follow his own heart. Trennor should have been allowed to go and his mother should have seen that.

David caught up with Laura as she turned into the hallway containing the door to the conference room. Trennor was standing outside the doorway, flanked by Cathor and Tranell. Laura slowed, and approached the three Warriors. She seemed tiny next to them, a flame attacking a mountain.

"I would like to speak to Trennor," she said, her voice firm, her stance determined but dignified.

Tranell shook his head, and started to speak when he was interrupted.

"Let them say their farewells, Tranell," came Delenn's voice from the doorway. She stood, with Susan just behind her to her right. "It will do no harm."

Tranell inclined his head towards Delenn, and gestured to Cathor to step back. Laura looked at Trennor, her hands clenched at her sides. "This is what you truly want?" she asked.

"It is not what I want to do, but it is what I must do," came the reply. Trennor too remained perfectly motionless, but tension showed in the rigidity of his jaw.

David started forward, but was quelled by a burning look from Susan. Her lowered brow told him without words that he had some questions to answer when this was all over.

Laura said, "I have lived on Minbar half my life. I was told that Minbari are taught to follow the calling of their heart. Will you tell me that this is what your heart is called to do?"

Trennor smiled briefly, and said, "There are higher callings than that of one's own heart, Laura. I am sorry it has ended this way."

Laura stared at him a moment longer, then nodded her acceptance sadly. Trennor laid one hand over his heart, and extended the other towards her, palm first. Laura mimicked the gesture, her expression solemn. She watched in silence as Trennor turned and walked away, Tranell slightly ahead of him, Cathor behind.

Delenn had watched the exchange carefully, keeping her face neutral in the presence of others. She approached Laura, and said, "It was his own decision, but it was not an easy one. Take some comfort from that."

Laura didn't look at her, keeping her eyes focused on the backs of the retreating Warriors. Without turning her head, she answered, "I know. I heard it all." Her arms came up and she wrapped them around herself, shivering slightly as if a cold wind had blown down the hallway. "I won't forget this, Delenn. I'll be back. Minbar is my home, too." Turning back to where David was standing, she said, "Thank you, Ranger Sheridan, for your sympathy and assistance. I won't forget that either."

David watched in astonishment as she walked away, in the opposite direction from the Warriors. He heard the ominous sound of a throat clearing painfully behind him.

"Assistance?"

He winced at the tone in his mother's voice. "I can explain," he said defensively, but he was cut off by Susan.

"And you will, Ranger." Susan's voice was crisp. "Later."

"Certainly, Anla'Shok Na," David stiffened and bowed to his superior. Then, he looked at Delenn, and impulsively said, "Mother, Laura deserved to be there. I don't understand why you did this. Couldn't you leave them alone, just let them go? The Warriors will only find another reason to fight us."

Susan grabbed David by the arm, and said sternly, "I said, later. This is not the time or the place. Report to me at Command Central in an hour and we will discuss it then."

This time David didn't bow, instead he turned on his heel and stalked away in the same direction Laura had gone.

Susan watched him go, shaking her head. She touched Delenn on the arm, and said, "I'll walk you back to the office. Come on, let's get out of here."

Susan's glare warned off the few low level functionaries who approached them as they walked back towards the main office of the IA. Delenn was lost in thought, and said little on the way. Once they got there, and sat down alone in Delenn's private inner office, Susan said, "How did you know Trennor would change his mind?"

"I didn't know. I thought he would. It was a leap of faith." Delenn's smile was a little distant.

"Well, it was a lucky guess then." Susan was seated across from her friend, and she was absently twirling a glass pyramid that rested on the glass desk-top. "I'll have to speak to David. If for no other reason, I want to find out where they were hiding that they could hear everything going on in that room. That's a serious breach of security."

"He should not have gotten involved," said Delenn severely. Then, her voice softening, she added, "He was sorry for her, I suppose."

Susan shook her head. "I suppose he was. Hell, I was, a little. They seemed to really care for one another. But then, who knows if it would have worked out. Earth might have been hard for Trennor to adjust to, even with the love of his life there. And I think EarthGov's interest went a bit beyond furthering the cause of romance. Gerry Wagner certainly wanted the petition approved."

"She did, and that was extremely interesting. There was something going on there...we must keep it in mind in the future." Delenn looked at the silver frame on her desk that held a portrait of herself and John at the time of their wedding. "Susan, are you happy here? John and I agreed that you were the perfect person to take over leadership of the Ranger, but I wonder if you miss your home."

Susan set the glass down, and leaned forward in emphasis. "Delenn, this is my home now. I'm a soldier, used to making my home where I'm stationed."

"Of course." Delenn sat back in the wide chair, purchased for John's comfort. It was somewhat large for her, but she had insisted on keeping it. "But this must still seem foreign to you, our customs and traditions. You speak Adronato fairly well now, and the other Minbari languages too. So much is different though..."

Susan started adjusting the few items on the desk. Most were carefully arranged; the few that had fallen out of formation she put straight. "Delenn, why did you and John decided to base the Alliance on Minbar?"

Delenn sighed. "It was the only practical solution. Of the homeworlds of the major races involved in the formation of the Alliance, only Minbar was relatively untouched by the wars. Narn was devastated, Centauri Prime was no longer a part of the Alliance. Earth came back quickly after the fall of President Clark, but your government was still uncertain about the Alliance. On Minbar, we had fallen back into normal patterns of governance and seemed to have come to terms with our own civil war. The divisions were only papered over with ritual and age-old tradition. We are seeing the results of that now, the result of not truly dealing with all that happened and the change that is to come." She leaned forward and touched the silver frame with the tip of one finger. "And John wanted to come here, to my home. So that I would not be alone when he left."

"That's what I thought," said Susan. "Is that why he wanted me here? So you would have a friend?"

"No!" said Delenn swiftly. "He, and I, wanted you to lead the Rangers. You were the obvious choice, the best choice, and the one we both wanted. Not at the expense of your happiness, however. Not if you feel exiled from your own kind."

Susan shifted uncomfortably in her chair, "Well, I'm trying to spend some more time with my fellow humans, at least one of them. That is, if we ever get a break in the succession of crises we've been dealing with!"

"Oh?" said Delenn, a spark of warm interest in her voice. "Is it any one I know?"

"Let me have one date with him before we have this discussion, all right?" Susan laughed, glad to see Delenn's mood lifting. "Now, I have to go deal with our errant Ranger. Do you suppose John was much trouble in the Academy?"

"He always told me he was a 'regular boy scout', but I do not know the precise meaning of that phrase," Delenn said smiling. Her tone sobered as she went on, "What will you do with David?" Holding up one hand to forestall protest, she added quickly, "I have no desire to intervene in your decisions involving discipline, but I am concerned. These last few months, I have seen little of him. Is this sort of subtle disobedience a problem?"

"I don't think it's much more than some post-adolescent rebellion and a predilection for knight-errantry. He comes by it naturally enough." Susan shook her head. "He'll straighten out once he takes his vows and gets out on a mission." Standing, she said, "I'd better get going. You okay?"

"I am fine. You should take the rest of the day for yourself, Susan. This crisis is ended, but I am sure another will be forthcoming. John told me once humans believed in seizing the moment...what was the phrase? 'Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.'" She added thoughtfully, "You really are a depressing people."

At Susan's look of disapproval, Delenn laughed. "Consider it an order, Anla'Shok Na. I have another few hours of paperwork, then I have a dinner date with my son. I would consider it a personal favor if you did not assign him extra duty tonight."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Susan had just left the shower when the door-bell rang. Quickly donning a silky dark blue robe, she wrapped a towel around her hair, and crossed the room to the door. "Who is it?" she queried, directing her voice at the small round disc that served to broadcast her voice outside her door.

"It's Dan," came the reply. "Can I talk to you?"

"Come on in," she replied, wondering what was the matter now. She'd had just about enough of the political aspects of her job today. The shifting alliances and worse, the changing identifications, she had felt today were making her uneasy. Siding first with Delenn, then with David, at times with Minbar, and also with Earth, had left her feeling lost in everyone else's motivations, uncertain of her own feelings. "I'll be out in a minute," she went on, keying the lock to open after a short delay, as she headed back to her bedroom to finish getting dressed.

She heard the door open and close, then a clatter from the kitchen area. Making himself at home, she thought to herself, surprised to find herself more pleased and intrigued than taken aback. Slipping into a pair of soft loose black trousers and pulling a long-sleeved rust and gold tunic over top of it, she walked back into the living area. Looking across the short bar that separated it from the kitchen, she saw Daniel looking through her cupboards. There was a bullet-shaped, steel grey cylinder on the bar. It was about 20 inches tall, seamless with no obvious opening, and stamped with the sigils of both the Minbari Federation and the Earth Alliance, intertwined in a stylized pattern. Daniel turned around, holding two simple white ceramic bowls in his hands, and she asked him wryly, "Can I help you find anything?"

"Spoons," he replied with a slight smile. "Is there a particular place you hide your flatware?"

Coming around to his side of the island, she pulled open a drawer just to the right of the slide-out washer. "I like things organized for easy storage. I hate putting away tableware; the quicker that chore's over the better." Taking out two long-handled spoons, she asked, "Will these do?"

"Perfect," he replied. "Since you couldn't make it to dinner the other day, I thought I would bring it to you." He touched a recessed button on the top of the cylinder, and added, "Or at least the dessert." The cylinder parted in the center, with the top rising and the center part moving outwards and separating into five pie-shaped sections. Cold air mixed with the atmosphere of the room to condense into a white cloud, obscuring what lay within the steel wedges.

"What is it?" she asked in fascination. "This packaging is like nothing I've ever seen before...what do they use to keep it cold?"

He pointed to the lower third of the container. "Liquid nitro is sealed in this section, and there's a nano-mesh that allows the vapor access to cool the center dividers. The mesh is closed off as the container opens, so the nitro can't escape. If you close the whole thing back up, the holes will reform and the remaining vapor will cool what's left." He watched as she closely examined the packaging. "You were one of those kids who played more with the box than the toy, weren't you?"

She smiled, "And if I was? You still haven't said, what's in here?" The steam had subsided, and she could see each wedge held a different color semi-solid mush.

"Ice cream," he said smugly, as her face lit up. "That fusion restaurant has this special dish...it's an homage of sorts, to the old B5 station. One flavor for each of the races that made up the executive council."

Susan picked up a spoon, and hesitated. "Which is which?"

Daniel handed her a bowl, and pointed to each one in turn. "The white is sweet cream, no other flavor, simple but deceptively difficult to do well. That represents the Minbari. This darker one is espresso, bittersweet and complex with a strong caffeine punch...that's Earth." He spun the center section around. "The red is blood orange flavor; that's for Narn, and this is rum raisin. I guess they thought anything Centauri should have some alcoholic base. It's rum-flavored only, in deference to their Minbari customers."

Susan laughed, "What in the world is that one? It must be meant for the Vorlons, but I've never seen anything less appetizing. It looks worse than day old rashnar!"

"Ah," said Daniel, scooping out a small amount of the grey-brown mess into each of their bowls. "That is their most intriguing concoction. Taste it; the flavor changes as it melts on your tongue. It's laced with nano-flavor crystals that dissolve in the presence of salivary enzymes, each of them at different temperatures. The unique chemical composition of your mouth and your individual body temperature make it taste different to you than to anyone else. It can change every time you try it."

Susan placed a small amount on her tongue and gingerly tasted it. "That is...unique," she said. "Cinnamon, lemon, maybe a hint of dark rye bread? I've never tasted anything like it."

"Mine is blackberry and butter, with some coffee and licorice underneath." Daniel put down his spoon, and said to Susan, who was busy sampling the other choices, "Must have been a rough day for you."

"That it was." Susan had swirled her spoon first into the espresso, then into the cream. "It wasn't the decision so much; that I agreed with. It was the way it worked itself out. I don't think we gained anything...maybe some time. And at what cost?"

"Every gain comes at a cost, Susan. Trennor thought it was worth the price. I think Laura will see it his way, eventually. She's a smart girl, and more practical than she's given credit for." Daniel put down his bowl, then took hers and placed it next to his on the counter. Taking her hands between his own, he said, "It'll work out, Susan. The Warrior caste won't try anything, not for a while. That will give Delenn time to work things out with them."

"I don't know," replied Susan. "I think we're past that point with them. It'll be war, sooner or later. Later just gives us more time to prepare."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Delenn sat in the dimly lit room, studying the flickering black and white images on the screen. After dinner, David had gone to his room to pack, and then to retire early. The plans had changed, or so he said, and he would be leaving in the morning to join his friends for the expedition to the mountains. She knew how upset he was, but there was nothing she could say, nothing she could do. He would have to come to terms with the outcome in his own time and in his own way.

It had been years since she had seen this vid, and she wondered why Susan had recommended it to David. There was certainly romance in the story, but it was sad and the ending was ambiguous. Perhaps it was the historical element. She found herself wondering what Lerriel had thought of it.

"Delenn?"

She turned her head briefly, to see Nashon silhouetted in the doorway. After the Minbari's last visit, Delenn had instructed the guards to admit her without question. "I am here," she said without rising from the couch. Touching the air in front of her, she activated the vidscreen controls and lowered the volume. Music could still be heard, vaguely ominous bass strains forming a background to the upcoming conversation. "I suppose you heard the decision."

"I did." Nashon came into the room and sat down beside Delenn. Looking towards her friend, she said, "I thought it might have been difficult for you, and that you might like some company."

"That was thoughtful," replied Delenn. "It was not that difficult; the decision was Trennor's. I merely gave him all the information and allowed him to make his own choice."

"I see." Nashon looked at the screen. "This is human? And old, I would imagine from the format. She leaned forward in fascination. "What is that on their heads?"

"Hats. They were apparently popular, almost to the point of being part of a uniform, at some points in their history. The females' headgear is typically more ornate than the males'. At least at this point in time." Delenn rubbed her temples. "It has been a long day."

"I would imagine so." Nashon studied her friend, and said, "Turn around. If you do not relax those muscles, you will harm yourself." She gently moved Delenn's hair, and began to massage the taut tendons of neck and upper back. "Who are the people in the story?"

Fighting to keep her eyes open, Delenn glanced at the screen. "There are two men in love with one woman, and a choice is about to be made. The little man with the hair under his nose is an official who becomes friendly with the dark man."

"Who does the woman choose?" asked Nashon. She was glad to see Delenn distracted, and showing less tension. It had been a close thing at the hearing today, or so she had heard. The Warriors were looking for a reason to resort to violence again. She did not envy Delenn the balancing act she must continue to perform to keep the peace between the castes. And where had the Grey Council been in all this, she wondered? It was not the Alliance's job to pacify the Warriors, but then, the Council had never quite recovered their authority after Delenn had reformed them. Everything was still out of balance. It was time, she thought, for the Minbari as a whole to take control of their own destiny.

"She does not choose; or at least, she is not allowed to. The man chooses for her, or perhaps it is that he makes his own choice and she is not a part of it." Delenn's voice was a little sad and far away.

"Ah," said Nashon noncommittally. "Does the story indicate what happens to her?"

"No," said Delenn. "But the choice between duty and love is never an easy one. The paths of each may lie together for a time, but...over a lifetime? It is rare that there is no divergence. It is very hard when the choice comes at the beginning."

Nashon leaned over and placing her arms around Delenn, briefly and gently hugged her friend from behind. "Even harder when it comes later. You were very brave."

Delenn said nothing, but reached up and pressed Nashon's hand. In the days and months and years to come, she would need all her friends.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

"So the Minbari decided to stay on the planet of his own volition, is that what you're telling me, General?"

The image wavered and pulsed with static. Damn this bad connection, Gerry thought to herself. Makes this office look unprofessional as hell. Lambert had better get someone in to work on it again. "That's right, Senator. Delenn didn't push one way or the other, although I got the distinct impression she wasn't upset at the outcome. The Warrior caste is obviously spoiling for a fight, and they're ready to take advantage of any opening. I'd say there will be violence within the year, maybe within six months."

"I see," said Senator Winfield. His eyes were lost in the wrinkles that criss-crossed his leathery sunburnt face, but he kept them focused on Gerry. "That is unfortunate. What will become of the girl? Perhaps she has some knowledge that would prove useful?"

"Her father has asked to be transferred back to Earth, and I approved it. I assume she'll accompany him. I don't suppose she knows much. A young girl, in love...they probably didn't discuss much besides each other!" Gerry's eyes narrowed. She should have questioned the girl herself. It was a missed opportunity.

"We will arrange a debriefing for her upon her return," the Senator replied. "I'll be sure and let you know if we find out anything." The wide leather chair in which he sat creaked a bit as he turned it slightly away from the screen. "Is there any update on the other matter?"

Gerry answered carefully, "No, there isn't. No one here talks much about what happened to Ambassador Sinclair. I have brought it up with the highest level people, and those who say anything, recite the story the Minbari and Sheridan put out at the time. Sinclair was involved in some kind of rescue mission in Sector 14, disappeared into the time vortex, and is presumed dead."

Senator Winfield was silent for a moment, his lips pursed in thought. "That is probably part of the truth, but I doubt it is all of it." Turning back to face , he said, "Continue investigating the matter, but be careful, General. Don't let President Delenn, especially, get wind of your interest. When we sent you to Minbar, this was merely a loose end to be tied up. Sinclair had gone native, but he was still one of ours, and we wanted to know what happened to him. Now, though...there have been reports of activity in that sector. Ships seem to be unable to get close enough to find out what's going on. It's a mystery, and I don't like mysteries!"

This last statement was barked at her loudly. Holding herself erect, she replied firmly, "Yes, sir. I'll try and have more to report next time."

"Winfield out," was the only reply, and the screen went blank. Gerry sat for a moment, staring at the screen, lost in thought. She looked over at the side table next to the desk, where two white candles burned. They were short pillars set on simple wooden saucers, and they framed a silver box set on a rosewood pedestal. The box was hinged on either side, and she reached forward to open the doors, muttering softly, "I don't like mysteries either." After contemplating the shrine for a moment, she leaned over to blow out the candles, saying, "I will find you, cousin. Or find out what happened to you. The Minbari may never tell anyone the whole truth, but they will tell me."

The laughing eyes of Catherine Sakai followed her as she left the room.