The Christmas Star
Author's Note: I have written a B5 Christmas Story every year since 2006. It's a tradition. This one is only Christmassy on the periphery, but I think it's got enough of the Christmas spirit to qualify.
John Sheridan pulled one of the molded chairs away from the back wall and settled it squarely in the center of the floor-to-ceiling windows that lined the observation gallery of Babylon Five. It was late; even though time aboard a station, as aboard a ship, was relative. The rotating cylinder of the occupied portion of the station faced towards and away from Epsilon Three, mimicking the day and night of a planet. Most species fell into whatever wake-sleep cycle was natural for them, with some necessary adjustment made for working with others. Soon enough he'd be planet-bound again, chained to the cycles of a strange world. He wanted to spend every moment he could free, space under his feet even if he wasn't going anywhere.
It was late at night, however you defined it, and at such times there were always fewer people in the gallery. Tonight he had it to himself as he tried to gather his thoughts, and make another stab at meditation. His wife could drop into a meditative phase in the middle of a noisy conference. Not that she would, as it would be impolite as well as counter-productive. Delenn liked to focus on something small to concentrate her thoughts. A candle-flame was a favorite object. John liked to go large; give him a star field, sectors of near-empty space dotted with faraway lights; each light a sun, each sun lighting a world. The expanse of open space helped him open his mind and look beyond the days' irritations and see the patterns of life echoed in the wheeling stars. He'd left his quarters after his wife had fallen asleep while reading in bed. These early weeks of pregnancy seemed to manifest themselves in her case primarily as overwhelming fatigue. Not being tired himself, he'd taken the tablet out of her hand, smoothed the coverlet over her, dimmed the lights, and left for a walk to the stars.
John fumed as he impatiently jabbed at his link. Interruptions all the damn time; that was the tenor of his life these days. Who was he kidding? It had been like that ever since he'd set foot on this station. He'd started to leave his link behind, but a constant undercurrent of worry about Delenn and the baby kept him tethered to the outside world. "What is it?" he growled as he lifted the back of his hand closer to his mouth.
"Incoming call, Mr. President," buzzed an unfamiliar voice from C&C. "I thought you might want to take this one. It's a personal message."
There were so many new people on board the station. It wasn't the same place any more. "Who is it?" he shot back, trying to calculate what time it was on Earth. He hoped there was nothing wrong with his parents.
"Captain Ivanova, sir. She's patched a call in from her ship. The connection's a bit weak, which isn't surprising considering how far out towards the Rim Titans is right now."
John whistled softly, "Susan was always pretty good at jury-rigging a system," he commented under his breath. Then, louder, "Patch her through."
"Yes sir," replied the voice. "Sir, would you like me to give you the video feed as well?"
"She managed video?" said John in open admiration. Looking around the room, he spotted a wall monitor and pulled his chair over towards it. Keying the monitor code into his link, he commanded, "Go ahead." Then he added, "It was a good idea to contact me. Thank you, Lieutenant..."
"It's Ensign, sir. Ensign Gabriel." The voice sounded eager and very, very young.
"Thanks, Ensign," John said firmly. "Put her through." He reached forward and hit a few buttons on the monitor, setting it to the C&C internal channel. The unit flickered a moment and then the image of Susan Ivanova formed on it.
"Hello John." Susan's face wavered a moment, lines of static crossing and criss-crossing her figure, then settled into the familiar form of his old comrade-in-arms. Her uniform was as neat and trim as always, but her hair was down, and she was seated in her quarters with a whiskey glass in her right hand. Off-duty, John thought, like he was, at least for the moment. They'd have a little time to talk.
"It's good to see you, Susan," John replied warmly. "You got my message then?"
Susan's face creased in a broad grin. "I did. I just got done talking to your wife. God, John, I always thought that old saw about pregnant women glowing was a myth!" She sobered briefly, "Sorry I woke her up; it's hard for me to get a clear line at any time, much less one that's mutually convenient."
"I'm sure Delenn didn't mind," John reassured Susan. "She'll drop back off pretty easily. At least that's been the pattern lately."
"Is she going to be all right?" asked Susan abruptly. She leaned forward in her chair, cradling the cut glass filled with clear liquid between her palms. "What does Stephen say?"
"He's 'cautiously optimistic'," replied John a bit grimly. Then he brightened. "He also says that a lot of it depends on Delenn herself, on her determination, her will to see it through."
"Oh well," Susan snorted. "If that's all, you guys are home free." Shaking her head, she leaned back. "I knew you two wanted kids, but this was pretty quick work. Don't you have an Alliance to get up and going? And aren't you moving that Alliance to a whole new sector of space soon?"
"Honestly?" said John somewhat sheepishly, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. "We didn't think it was possible, so we just stopped thinking about it."
Susan started to laugh, pausing only when she almost choked on her next words. "It was a surprise, wasn't it?" Unable to keep the smile from her face, she went on in mock disbelief, "You two plan everything down to the last detail, keeping track of every variable during two, no three wars. All the politics, diplomacy, shifting alliances, races, treaties, conspiracies... After all that you're caught out like two teenagers who aren't sure where babies come from!"
John started to protest, then ended up laughing along with her. "That's about it, yes," he said finally, wiping his eyes. "God, Susan, I haven't laughed that hard in weeks!"
"Then my job here is done," replied Susan, taking a determined gulp of the liquid courage in the glass she gripped.
John noted the change in tone. "You okay?" he asked. "How's the mission going?"
"Fine," replied Susan abruptly. Sighing, she shook her head. "Not so fine." After a pause, she went on, "I've gotten everything I always thought I wanted. But it isn't what I expected. Somehow, it isn't enough. Is it ever enough?"
John thought of Delenn, asleep in their bed, curled up around what he fervently hoped would be their son, and shook his head. "Sometimes you're wrong about what you wanted. Sometimes you get it, but you've changed in the meantime. Sometimes the price you pay is too high. But sometimes," he smiled crookedly at her, "it's enough." More than enough, he thought to himself, wishing he could find the words to lift his friend's mood.
Susan took a sip of the clear liquid in her glass, then set it down carefully. "I found a star," she said.
"A star?" replied John, startled by the change of subject.
"A new system. Uncharted, unknown up till now." Susan smiled faintly. "They gave me naming rights, and I've decided to gift your offspring with it. Sheridan's Star, that's what'll go in the record books back on Earth."
John was speechless for a moment. "That's..that's wonderful," he finally said. He noted wryly, "Trust you to get something you don't have to wrap. Then he added, "Isn't it a little early for a birthday present? Considering he won't even be born for months yet?"
Susan snorted, "Consider it an early Christmas gift then. And I expect him, or her, to get out here for a look. There are planets, might even be pre-sentient life. The conditions are right."
"As soon as he can pilot a starship, he'll be there," promised John.
Susan picked the glass up again, tilting it back until it was empty. "Why are you so sure it's a boy? Stephen have a look already? Is it big enough to tell?"
"They do a genetic scan, as you well know," John remonstrated. "But I knew before the scan. Or thought I knew," he concluded thoughtfully.
"How?" replied Susan bluntly. "A premonition? Or did Kosh let it slip in some Vorlon riddle once upon a time?"
"Remember back on Babylon 4, that mission with Sinclair?" said John. "When I jumped forward in time? Delenn was there, on Centauri Prime. She told me we had a son. I never knew if it would really happen, but it looks like it might." He couldn't keep the smile from his face. That happened a lot lately-in between the panic attacks.
"That must have made things easier," laughed Susan bitterly. "You knew you'd get the girl in the end."
John shook his head. "There were no guarantees, you know that." The picture on the monitor wavered, blanked, then re-formed.
"I think I've pushed the com system to its limits, John. All the best. Remember me to anyone you see who'd care." Susan's face blurred, then came back into sharp focus.
"More than you'd think," John said firmly. "I'll tell them you called. Keep in touch, and remember, when you get back, you owe us a visit."
"I've never been to Minbar," replied Susan. "Looking forward to it. I'll send the data on your son's gift. Good-bye, John." The picture went to black. A buzzing alarm sounded and the words 'Connection Lost' filled the screen.
"Good-bye, Susan," whispered John to the blank and silent screen. Standing, he walked over to the expansive viewport and leaned his forehead against the thick cold glass. Suns and stars flared in the inky blackness of deep space. The lights from a few orbiting ships swam briefly in and out of his vision. "The sun, the moon, and the stars," he said softly, receiving no response from the unhearing void. "That's what I'd like to give my son." A head start on his dreams-that would be enough. It would have to be. Dreams are like memories projected forward in time. He would give his son memories, and leave him with dreams. And he would do it with a little help from his friends.