See Chapter 1 for Disclaimer and Author's Notes

Chapter 7 – Deliver Me From Evil

"Then [He] was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." – Matthew 4:1

Yes, it's true: I've been married three times. Three times to three very different women; in Minbari terms, which is how I've come to view the world in the twilight of my life, I married one from each caste. I married warrior, worker and religious. It's odd, I think sometimes, that my best match was my opposite number. Delenn was trained to pray; I was trained to fight. Though to be fair, Delenn is not now and, I assume, never has been a typical Religious Caste Minbari. She possesses in herself qualities of all three castes, and that's perhaps why I was drawn to her most of all.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I married Elizabeth Lochley (Earthforce, ret.) in 2239, about a month after graduation from Earthforce Academy. Three months later, we had an amicable divorce. Ironically, this was about the only thing – including bedroom politics – that we were ever amicable about. But I will never say I didn't love her. A part of me will always love her – but not as much as I'll always respect her. Later, this would be very important.

(That said – in 2239, I wanted to rip her heart out. Just so we're clear on that point.)

Ten years later, I married Anna.

Anna.

You'll… you'll always have a special place in my heart. We went through too much for me not to say that.

Our story was a happy one, at least at first. We weren't kids at that point – I was in my mid-30s. She was my sister Lizzie's age – and her longtime friend. And, for that matter, Anna and I were friends first, and our romance bloomed and blossomed over the war, so that by the time it was over, when I came home, the only thing I had in mind was to marry her. I couldn't imagine spending one more second of my life alone.

She was a xenoarchaeologist – physically small but as strong as I'd ever seen in heart, mind and body, and that impressed me to no end. I was put in command of the base on Io just after the war, and as newlyweds, we picked up and moved our life there. She never complained. She thrust herself into her own career while I continued to build mine. My father all but stepped clear of directing my development; being a war hero and then getting married goes a long way toward convincing a man's parents that he can take care of himself, I guess.

In 2251, two things of note happened. First, I was sent to help put down the food riots on Mars. I did it, and I did it quickly and efficiently, and let me tell you why: I did it because I wasn't in a position of power to say anything so radical as, "Mars should be a free and independent state," and if I'd said it at that time, I likely would've been stripped of my rank and court-martialed, which wouldn't have done anyone any good. I did it because in the end, putting the riots down quickly and quietly did, I maintain, save more lives than if they had been allowed to drag on. I did it not because I had no choice, but because, all options presented, it was the best choice. It helped the most people. But I don't have any delusions that I made no enemies, that there were no hard feelings. I know I did; I know there were.

The second thing that happened was that the Earth Senate convened after midterm elections that had been held the previous November, and a brand-new senator stood up in the chambers in Geneva, placed his hand on the bible and swore an oath. He said, "I do solemnly swear that I will support and uphold the Constitution of the Earth Alliance against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

His name was William Morgan Clark.

I voted for him.


"Commander Sheridan! Come in, come in. Have a seat."

"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir." Sheridan walked with confident ease into the senator's office, saying a silent thank-you to his father for taking him on all those state visits as a teen. It allowed him to be more comfortable in a situation like this than most might be. He settled into the chair across from Senator Clark's desk, and only then did he feel a bit uncomfortable, as the senator did not immediately speak, and Sheridan wasn't sure how to sit. Straight-backed? Casual, one leg crossed over the other? Lean against the back of the chair, or not? He finally settled for a compromise, leaning back into the chair but keeping both feet firmly on the floor. It was a bit uncomfortable for his long frame, but he managed it. He'd been in tighter spaces before.

"Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea…? I can have something brought in…"

"No, Sir, I'm fine. Thank you," he added as an afterthought with a tight smile and a polite nod.

Clark nodded as well, and Sheridan could feel the bulky politician sizing him up. It made him even more uncomfortable than he already was, and he shifted a bit but didn't change his posture.

"I understand your father is—was a diplomatic envoy." The governor got up from his chair behind his big oak desk and turned, looking out a floor-to-ceiling window into the courtyard below.

"Yes sir. He recently retired and decided to take up farming."

"Farming." Clark laughed amicably but didn't turn around. "He must have kept you pretty politically educated, then."

Sheridan narrowed his eyes for a moment, glad that the senator wasn't looking at him. It made him feel a bit more relaxed – but only a bit. "No, Sir… though not for lack of trying." Now Sheridan laughed lightly, the memories of his "D" in Civics Education and his father's grim reaction still as firm in his mind as if it had happened yesterday. "It was just never something I had a lot of interest in."

"Fair enough."

Silence fell into the room. At first it was nice – the questions stopped, and Sheridan relaxed even more. But the longer it lingered, the more uncomfortable it became. The senator continued to gaze out his window into the gray Geneva day, and Sheridan wondered if the other man had forgotten he was still in the room. Finally, the commander cleared his throat, sat up straight in his chair once again and asked, "Senator… if I may ask. Why am I here? What is this meeting about?"

"You have an exemplary record, Commander." Clark spun sharply on his heel – faster than Sheridan would have thought possible for a man of the senator's stature – and met Sheridan's eyes directly. It was as though he'd been waiting for the question.

And the answer was one Sheridan had become accustomed to hearing. "Thank you, Sir."

"Not only that, but your mind works in a way I've never seen in any soldier, even during my time."

For the first time, Sheridan was thrown off-guard. "You served?"

"Enlisted during the War of the Shining Star. Honorable discharge." He patted his leg and, though Sheridan didn't know the story, he suspected the move referenced an old injury. "Wasn't in long – just long enough to be a good target." He shook his head. "But you, you're special. The Golden Child of the Minbari War. You'll likely make captain within a few years, and when that happens, Earthforce will give you your own starship."

"It's… a great dream."

"It's more than a dream for a man like you, Sheridan. You… have shown that you have what it takes to go far in your career, whether it's fully within the military or… parleyed into something else."

Sheridan cleared his throat. "Such as?"

There was another long, awkward silence. Just as it cross the line into more uncomfortable than the commander could stand and he shifted his body in the chair in preparation to stand and speak, Clark opened his mouth again. "We have that in common, Commander. We both have big dreams. I don't intend to be a senator forever."

"Oh?"

"No… Between you and me, I've got my eye on the presidency before I get too far along in years. But for now, Commander Sheridan – let's just keep that our little secret, eh?" He flashed Sheridan a smile that felt like an odd combination of a baby-kissing politician and the Christmas Grinch, and then he shifted topics slightly – though reflecting on it later, Sheridan would string the dots together and decide it was quite intentional. "A position at the Orion Command District recently became available. It's not a starship, but you do well there and it's a shoe-in for you to get one when the new Omega-class destroyers start rolling off the line. I've spoken to your superiors and they agree, it's a perfect next step for you."

"And may I ask why these new orders were not presented to me by my superiors?"

"Because," Clark responded, wandering away from Sheridan in a meandering fashion, not headed toward any one particular place. He stopped about ten paces away and turned again to face the younger man. "I asked to be allowed the honor. I wanted to shake the hand of Starkiller, as I've never been able to do." Sheridan stood now, too, and obliged him, but a faint warning bell was beginning to sound in his head. He didn't smile. His eyes, he was almost certain, conveyed skepticism. "And I wanted to thank you personally. You're a rare breed, Sheridan, and you can rest assured that with regard to my dream, I'll be keeping an eye on you. I hope that in your years in Earthforce, we continue to have a good relationship. You've proven yourself to be a man who will do whatever is necessary to protect Earth, and that's exactly the kind of soldier we need on our corner and, someday, hopefully, exactly the kind of man I'll need in mine. Congratulations, Commander. Enjoy Orion. She's the start of a whole new world for you."