By A. J. Breton
Rating: Violence, Adult Language, Alternative
Spoilers: Season 5, and any episodes with references to the E-M War, sorry, nothing specific
Summery: Pres. Sheridan and Delenn deal the consequences of an controversial decision. Battle scenes and angry Minbari Warriors abound. Also included, several interesting ways to use the word "Frag". The story is structured in interconnected sections, making it a bit fractured. It's an experiment.
WARNING: Rather graphic scenes of battle, death, violence and anger abound, don't read if you don't want to. Credit Where Credit is Due: The song "No Leaf Clover" by Metallica, I heard the song once and immediately started writing this story.
I. A Good Day to Be Alive
His friend squirmed and choked. Shuddered and gasped. Blood oozed across the deck. John was soaked in blood. He hadn't even been hit. The bulkhead around them shuddered like distant thunder. Dean was trying to speak. He could only gasp and gargle as blood escaped his lips. John tried to silence him, he tried to put more pressure on the wound in Dean's stomach. But there was too much blood. It was all over. Who knew the human body had that much blood? Dean shuddered violently, blood poured from his mouth with a sharp gasp. John pulled him close, he felt cold. The thunder was gaining on them. People were running for the escape pods. The ship was gone. John knew he had to get to a pod, but he couldn't leave Dean. There would be some medical supplies in the pod. Not enough, John didn't let himself think that.
God the blood was everywhere. Dean was trying to speak again.
"Shhh, don't talk. Don't talk." John's voice was weak and strained as he started pulling Dean's limp frame down the hallway. They were moving slowly. Too damn slow.
"Johhhaaallnnn…" Dean gargled in pain as John grabbed him tighter.
"No, no, don't talk, don't move. Hang on, Dean. Just hang on." A quick glance down the corridor showed the entrance to the pods only a few yards away. There would still be a small one left, John could feel it, there had to be. "Hang on, Dean." The words were more encouragement to himself than to his friend. Jesus, help me, John thought. His muscles ached, his eyes burned in the smoke and from the blood and sweat that dripped into them. The thunder grew louder. The ship was shaking apart around them. John was nearly blind. Dean wasn't moving as much as he had been.
"Hang on, Dean, we're almost there." John choked out. The pods were only feet away. "Jesus, please…." With a final lurch he slung Dean forward into the airlock and dragged him into the nearest attached pod. It was a small one. Only meant for one. John let Dean slump to the floor and secured the hatch. As soon as the door sealed John pushed the launch lever and the tiny craft lurched away from the vessel. It took John a second to realize he was floating. Away from the mother ship's rotation, the tiny pod had no gravity within it. Dean was floating too, and bleeding. John pushed his friend into the restraints on the pod's wall and secured the belts as best he could. The blood was getting all over, it was floating in globs through the small space. His hands slipped over the belts' fasteners.
"Dean, buddy, listen to me. You're gonna be all right. We're gonna get through this." He looked up at his friend's face. His eyes were glazed over. Looking at him, not seeing. His face had bluish cast to the skin. John's heart seized. "Dean?" The panic that he had avoided on the ship now started to grip him . He put his hands on either side of Dean's face. He was cold. His eyes were dead. "Dean?" John started shaking. "DEAN?!? Dean Mueller, you asshole, talk to me!" Silence. "Goddamn it, talk to me!"
The one-man pod tumbled through the debris field silently. No one heard the young John Sheridan screaming in side. Dean Mueller was dead.
II. It Comes To Be, Then.
The taste in his mouth was bitter, stinging. It was a black taste, like the smoke that hung in the air. That smoke that hung in his lungs. He stood rigid, still, the sounds of explosions deafened his ears. The viewscreen was blank. The power was gone. It wasn't necessary though. He knew what space looked like. It was black. Like the smoke. Like death.
A warrior does not fear death. He doesn't consider death. The battle is important, one's fate is not. He heard the klaxon blare on and on as the ship rocked in its death throws. This eternity was over. The battle was over. He had never tasted defeat before. But now he had. In an eternity of seconds his comrades were dead, his ship was dying, and his enemy was still out there. He was wounded but still out there. Laughing in triumph, no doubt.
Defeat tastes like smoke.
His ship succumbed. His beloved Black Star imploded taking him and hundreds others beyond the veil.
Some ways away, John Sheridan breathed a heavy sigh of relief and said a silent prayer of thanks as the fireball on his viewscreen faded into blackness. My God, he thought, I'm still alive!
III. All the Pieces Fall to My Wish
The Black Star sat on his desk, or at least a chunk of it did. Sheridan ran his finger tips over the roughened metal It was cold to the touch. It was always cold, no matter what the room temperature was. A piece of it jutted away sharply from the main mass. The angle was such that it always reminded him of a Minbari's bone crest. It was a nasty looking piece of twisted metal that reminded him of some of the most painful, desperate, brutal times of his life.
So why did he keep it? Delenn hated it. John had tried to explain to her the idea of keeping trophies, war prizes and that sort of thing. The whole ideal seemed too foreign to her. Delenn hated having the piece in their living quarters, but John didn't think it was right to have it in his office. He saw too many Minbari diplomats and assistants for that. Even Delenn had agreed. He like having it close. It kept him grounded. It reminded him of everyone who hadn't been as lucky as he'd been. Most of the time he ignored it. It just sat on his desk, with all the other little things that sat on his desk. Then there were days like today. He couldn't get away form it. He'd been thinking about this piece of metal all day, and now that he was home, he couldn't keep his fingers from touching it. Ironically it had been Delenn that had caused this preoccupation. Well, he supposed, maybe it wasn't all that ironic. Delenn was a complex woman.
The door to their quarters opened and Delenn entered. She stopped when she noticed what John was doing at his desk. He had such a far away look on his face.
"Are you all right?"
"Hummm." He nodded absently. Delenn approached the front of his desk and watched as John continued to caress the piece's scarred, mangled surface. Just looking at the object sent a chill down her spine.
"Have you given much thought to what I asked you about earlier?" John sat back and smiled. He kept the piece in his hands though, and only glanced at Delenn as he answered.
"It's been all I could think about. I had a couple of meetings, but I couldn't tell what they were about. All I could concentrate on was this." He held the piece up higher. Delenn stood in uncomfortable silence. John gazed at the piece for a few more moments, his face was unreadable to her. Suddenly he put the object down and looked up at her.
"Have I ever told you about Dean Mueller?"
"Dean Mueller?" Delenn was caught off guard by the suddenness of the question, she didn't make the connection. "No, have I met him?" John chuckled softly.
"No, dear, he died in the war." His reply was gentle. "He was a close friend of mine. Every morning at breakfast he would clap me on the back and say, 'Hey Johnny, good day to be alive!' no matter how bad the war was going or how horrible we all felt because we hadn't slept in days it didn't matter to Dean. He would always be in perfect spirits, always knew the right thing to say at the right time, and he was always convinced that no matter what day it was, it was 'a good day to be alive'." John smiled broadly at the memories of his friend. Delenn eased a bit and sat in the chair in front of his desk.
"He sounds like a wonderful man." She offered.
"Yeah he was." John's eyes saddened a bit. "His wife was on Mars. She was a great cook. Whenever it was possible for us to get packages from home, she'd send Dean cookies." John laughed. "We used to tease him mercilessly about that. I think most of us were just jealous though. That never stopped Dean from passing them out, though." He shook his head. "He was a great guy. A good man."
Delenn asked tentatively, "How did he pass?" John didn't look up at her. A few moments passed. It looked to Delenn like John was watching something far away. Finally he answered, flatly.
"He bled to death as I carried him to an escape pod." He picked up the piece of metal again. "I guess it wasn't' such a good day…" he let the sentence drift off as he started examining the surface of the piece again. Delenn stood awkwardly to leave him in peace with his thoughts. She was stopped by John when he spoke again.
"Delenn, you're right. We should. But it won't be easy." She turned back to him.
"I know. But important things never are."
VI. Don't Mind the Rolling Thunder
Peace? Resolution? Never. Not as long as this warrior draws breath. Trevan was not pleased. It seemed he was rarely ever pleased anymore.
News of the 'Memorial Services' had spread quickly throughout the station. 'Memorial Services', Trevan sneered at the sound of it. Even in the human language it sounded like a plot of the Religious Caste. Not just any Religious one though, he thought, the Great One Herself! He snickered angrily. Who was she, that outcast, to dictate how Warriors should commemorate or mourn the dead? And to suggest that those great Warriors should be honored side by side with the human dead? Outrageous! Never! He would not stand for it. Neither would many other Warriors he knew. All the details had not yet been made public, but he could guess who would be presiding over the human side of the ceremonies.
The 'President' that his government so readily backed. The man that so many young Minbari flocked to serve as Rangers instead of following a truly righteous calling with the Warrior Caste. Years after his cowardly attack on the great Black Star, Sheridan was still killing Minbari. He was killing them one young warrior at a time. He polluted their minds, made them obey his 'Alliance' instead of the ways of the Caste. He turned them into something that was not true Minbari. As far as Trevan was concerned, that was even worse than death.
That was the title that suited Sheridan, no other. Of course he could not do all that himself. Again we come to the Great One Herself! Trevan growled in frustration. He believed that somewhere inside that outcast there had to be some Minbari left. Her strange transformation had poisoned her mind, made her weak and susceptible to the whims of Sheridan. He was using her to destroy the Minbari, of this he was sure. He would succeed in destroying them too, if something wasn't done soon. This 'Memorial' was just another way of trying to gain sympathy and loyalty.
All my brethren are blind, he thought, unwilling to face the decline of our culture, unwilling to accept responsibility for our lax attention. I will not let this continue. I must save my people from this slow death. This cowardly attack from a cowardly man.
V. Old Soldiers Never Die
Michael felt sick. God he felt sick. The heat at his back was just getting worse. They had to get out of there. They had to fall back. The fire was coming down around them.
"DOWN! DOWN! GOD DAMNIT GET DOWN!" His voice was too hoarse to be heard over the thundering explosions. He grabbed at the young man beside him. "Get the unit back!" Michael was screaming in his face. The soldier, was his name Hammond? he couldn't remember, seemed to understand, seemed to be nodding. He moved away from Michael, he watched the young soldier move three paces when the blast hit. The blinding white overtook him, threw him to the ground.
Michael suspected that he'd only been unconscious a few seconds. There was nothing left where Hammond had been standing other than blood and charred ground. Michael could taste the blood in his mouth. He spit it out and knew instinctively it wasn't his own. Just as the blood and flesh on his fatigues weren't his own either. He felt sick. God he felt sick. The explosions were coming closer. He stumbled to his feet. The ground was spinning. The sky was falling in on him. Down, he thought as he stumbled to the ground, heaving. Down. Back. We must fall… He bit dirt and scrambled ineffectively to get back up. Back, damnit, no…. The white flashed again, smoldering flesh, burnt dirt…
I feel so sick. Oh God, just let this end.
John felt sorry for Michael. It was obvious that this week had been rough on his friend. No doubt arranging for the War Memorial services had brought up just as many bad memories for Garibaldi as it had for him. John's nightmares had been pretty gruesome as of late, he wondered if Michael's had been any better. Garibaldi sat slumped in the chair across from Sheridan in the President's office. He took a couple more grateful sips of coffee before finishing his report.
"That's about it, John. I think we have just about all the bases covered for the ceremonies."
"Good. Good. I want all of this to go along smoothly."
"Can I ask something?" John looked up, surprised at the question.
"Sure. What's the problem?"
"No problem," Garibaldi hesitated, "I'm just curious about something."
"Well, all these ceremonies, commemorating and honoring the war dead, putting up a memorial, and all that sort of thing….doing it here I guess makes sense, since this kind of a neutral place and all…giving equal consideration to both sides and all…"
"What's your question, Michael?"
"Well, what I'm curious about, is who's idea was this? Yours or Delenn's?"
"Does it matter?"
"Well, no, I suppose not. I'm just curious. I can't really picture you coming up with something like this."
John looked insulted. "You don't think I could come up with it?"
"No, no." Garibaldi waved his hands defensively. "I don't mean it like that. It's just that, having been a soldier in the war, being someone who fought and saw friends die…" Garibaldi's eyes drifted for a second before he finished, "I just can't see you proposing something that would bring all those memories back." John nodded.
"Those memories are there, whether we acknowledge them or not. This was Delenn's idea. I admit I was a bit pensive about it at first. But now I think its a good idea. Even after so many years, there's still a lot of resentment on both sides. There's still a lot of anger and mistrust between Humans and Minbari. Neither side has been able to put those feelings to rest, not completely. We felt that Babylon 5 presented a reasonably neutral site for memorial ceremonies, and that we should make sure to honor both sides equally in order to avoid further deepening of resentments. This is supposed to help heal us, Michael. Help us to put those memories out of our nightmares and into our past."
Michael nodded. "I guess I understand. No offense, but I'll happier when this whole affair is over with."
"Will you be at the ceremonies?"
Garibaldi's eyes darkened again for moment. "I don't know if I can." John smiled sympathetically.
"At least try, that's all I can ask."
He had some time to kill before his next appointment. John browsed about the shops. People recognized him, and talked to him, some people complained. For the most part, though, people just kept about their business. He supposed he should be doing paperwork, he was sick of being confined to his office. He wanted to move around, see faces, hear the noises of the station he used to be able to hear when he was still just the commander of the station. Michael would have been angry to say the least that he didn't have a bodyguard with him. He knew if Michael and Delenn had their way, he'd be kept under surveillance twenty-four hours a day. Hell, sometimes he thought they'd be happier if he stayed confined in a single room all day. God forbid he should ever take his time getting home, or change his plans at the last minute. Michael and or Delenn would find him, corner him and grill him about why he wasn't where he was supposed to be, and doesn't he know how hard it is to protect him, and so on and so on.
John sighed absently. Sometimes he wished he was less protected and better trusted to watch over himself. Oh well, he thought, they mean well.
John saw the blade glinting on the merchant's table. It was a fairly ordinary knife. The blade was about six to seven inches long. It was sleek and well kept. It had been kept sharp. He picked it up. It fit his hand well, it had a great balance. He turned the blade over in his hands and noticed the sheath that lay beside it. The markings on it were Earth Force. It was an older design, from the earlier days of the Force. He guessed the weapon had to be fifty to sixty years old. Michael would love this, he thought. He knew Michael kept a small collection of antique weaponry. He had been able to hold some of the old slug-throwers he had, they were beautiful weapons. He sheathed the knife and took it to the proprietor. After striking a deal, he put the knife in his jacket pocket. He'd give it to Michael next time he saw him. For now, though, it was back to the office.
VI. The Mad Puck Goat
The bottle shattered just inches past his head. He didn't see who threw it. He didn't care. This little frag-hole of a bar and the assorted riffraff that patroned it was the last of his concerns. Erik didn't care about the squabbling, frag-head drunkards who lurched about him in the cramped space. He scratched absently at the scar that ran the length of his right arm. This was an intolerable situation.
There were Minbari everywhere. Not just ordinary boneheads, either. Warrior Caste. Fraggin' mothers… Erik belted back the shot the bartender had set in front of him. The liquor burned down his throat and chest. He hadn't had that much to drink, but he already felt dizzy.
Frag those fraggin' fraggers and the god damned frag ship they fraggin' walked off of. Frag the goddamn asshole who thought this whole "memorial" thing up. It made him sick. To be sold out by one of his own. A human. A veteran. A fraggin' war hero!
"War hero my fraggin' ass!" He threw back another shot. That son of a bitch Sheridan. He'd gone and sold out. Bad enough he'd become a politician, but to marry a fraggin' bonehead freak bitch and then propose this kind of shingbang? Humans and Minbari coming together to heal… fraggin' hell. Trouble. That's all it was. Trouble. That many warrior boneheads around, it was going to be nothing but trouble.
"Hey, Erik?" Jay sidled up next to him. Jay had just lost the last of his money in a poker game across the room. "Help a friend in need?" Erik didn't look at him. "Hey, man, just a few credits to get me back in the game, I swear I'll pay you back this time. Plus interest. Come on, huh?" Erik shrugged him off. "What's eating you, Erik?"
"You havta ask?" He didn't notice how slurred his speech had become. "All these mother loving frag boneheads walkin' around here like they own the goddamned place…" Jay shrugged.
"Yeah, so what you gonna do about it?"
"Somebody's gotta do something! It's a disgrace. A fraggin insult to everything people like us fought for."
"Speak for yourself. I was too young for the war, oldman."
"Ungrateful bastard. You're all ungrateful frag-head bastards. Damn that Sheridan and his little bonehead bitch. She's brainwashed him, ya know."
Jay laughed. "What are you talking about? You're crazy."
"Crazy, nothing. It's true. Tomorrow at the ceremonies he's going to recite what she wants him to say, and all you ungrateful stupid whelps are gonna lap it all up and play right into their hands!"
"The warriors, of course! They're planning something."
"You are fragging nuts. I'm gonna find me some action." Jay stood to leave. Erik grabbed his sleeve.
"Just you watch, those bastards are up to no good."
"So why don't you do something to stop them?" Jay jerked his sleeve away and disappeared into the crowd.
Maybe I will do something. Maybe I should. Erik signaled the bartender for another shot.
VII. It Just Feels Right This Time
Sheridan rounded the corner to the Zocalo. It was late, but many of the shops were still open. He thought he would get Delenn some flowers before going home. They had both been too busy to spend any real time together this past week, he hoped flowers would get the night off to a good start. Neither one of them had appointments in the morning. Anticipation played a grin across his face.
He wandered about a couple of booths before finding some small, white blossoms that stood on long dark green shafts. They looked very delicate, and they were very expensive.
"You have a good eye, sir." The proprietor sidled up to him. "These are very rare flora, imported fresh from Kuldan, a Minbari colony world, its the only place they grow…" The short, flush-faced man went on at length about the desirability of the flowers. John had talked to diplomats and politicians all day, and he didn't think any one of them could speak as continuously as this little florist did. He finally got a word in, he bought a half dozen of the blooms. Quickly, he nodded his thanks and exited the booths. He hoped Delenn would like them.
Trevan watched the Starkiller leave the Zocalo. He carried a bundle of flowers with him. For his wife, no doubt, Trevan thought. These despicable ceremonies had been going on for the past two days. He had watched in disgust as ever growing groups of warriors came and paid 'tribute' to their lost comrades. He had watched in disgust as they congregated with the human veterans in joint 'memorials'. They were blind. They had been misled, now they were dishonoring themselves and the memories of the dead. It had to stop. It had to stop now. Trevan could not stomach watching one more day of this mockery. He would not allow Sheridan to kill the minds of any more young Minbari. The battle matters. One's fate does not. My battle is just. This warrior will not be defeated.
The hallway was quiet. This time of the evening there were only few people in this sector. John walked briskly through the last intersection of corridors before reaching his door. He was only barely aware of the sound of footsteps behind him, when he heard the telltale sound of a Minbari fighting staff being engaged. He spun on his feet, simultaneously ducking his head down, the blow whipped over his skull and impacted with the wall. The missed swing threw the stout, hooded attacker off balance just enough for John to come around with a swift punch to his face. The punch landed, but the attacker wasn't thrown. John grappled with the man, trying to use his greater height to wrestle an advantage from him.
The delicate flowers were trampled and smeared beneath their feet as Trevan broke Sheridan's hold on his staff, and brought the weapon up in a swift thrust that caught Sheridan in the jaw. John heard his jaw crack before he felt the pain shoot through his skull. The blow threw him back from his attacker, whose hood had now fallen away. Through eyes blurred with pain he saw the Minbari advance. He was shorter than John, but he was stout and strong. John tried to speak, but movement just made his jaw clench in agony. Dizzied, he backed away.
"No more." Trevan growled at his opponent. "You will not hurt my people any longer!" With a huge swing around for momentum, Trevan's staff came up in a circle then whipped down with annihilating force and speed. John reacted out of instinct.
Just as the staff reached its apex, he lunged headlong toward the warrior's chest, underneath the swing. With his left arm he caught the downswinging section and deflected it away from his head. There was an audible crack from his forearm under the impact. In the same motion the heel of John's right hand smashed into the Minbari's face, crushing his nose. John's momentum and the force of the blow pushed Trevan back, he stumbled.
John wrapped his left arm around the staff, ignoring though tearing eyes the lightening bolts of burning misery that shot through his arm. Trevan couldn't maintain his grip on the staff as he backpedaled, regaining his balance. Blood had gushed from his nose, staining his mouth and beard a dark red. John was quick to bring up the staff in a defensive stance. He didn't know much about staff fighting, really only what he had seen from Ranger training he had watched, but he did know hand to hand. He desperately hoped he could fake it well enough to get through this. Trevan didn't waste any time.
Trevan advanced quickly. He was an older warrior, but he was strong and fast, nonetheless. John managed to block or deflect most of the flurry of punches, jabs, and kicks the warrior threw at him. The added reach of the staff was a definite advantage; but even with it he was having trouble keeping up the Minbari's movements. He took a jab in the shoulder, and a hard kick in the right side. He was struggling to maintain his defense while keeping control of the staff. His ribs ached as he whirled around to block another high swing, as his arms went up he saw the kick coming up toward his midsection, but as fast as he could move wasn't fast enough.
Trevan gave a small shout of triumph as his kick landed squarely in Sheridan's stomach. The assault had lasted much too long. Much longer than he had anticipated. Sheridan had been too swift, and stronger than he had first believed. Sheridan doubled over as the air was knocked out of him. Trevan reacted quickly with a blow to the back of his neck. It was intended to knock him down, and Sheridan obligingly fell face first to the floor with a prominent thud. The staff had fallen loose from Sheridan's grasp, Trevan retrieved it quickly, before Sheridan could recover. He could kill him with one swing. He could end this all with just one more blow. He moved into position over Sheridan, who was just now getting to his knees. Trevan saw the human look up at him as he raised his staff for the final time. He had expected to see fear, or weakness, or even anger; but he didn't….
Delenn yawned absently over her paperwork, as she skimmed over the economic proposals for the third time. She should really just go to bed, she thought. She was getting nowhere with her work, she was too tired. She looked over and noticed the time. It was late. Much later than she thought. John had said he would be running late this evening, but she had certainly expected him by now. She stood and went to the console. He's probably just lost in his work, or talking with someone, she tried to assure herself. John had received more than one death threat since he had taken office, only a couple of them had ever evolved into actual attempts, but still Delenn's heart seized every time something like this happened. She knew it drove John crazy to have her "checking up" on him, or always asking about his schedule. But, she thought, she would rather have John annoyed and know where he is, than not know anything at all. She placed a call to his office. No answer. He's probably just on his way home, then, she thought; but her hands still shook slightly as she sat back down at her desk. Sleep was out of the question now. She sat facing the door and waited.
Her eyelids seemed to get heavier as she waited. She didn't want to call security, she didn't want to cause any stir if not needed. Ten more minutes, she thought. If I hear nothing in ten more minutes, then I will contact security. She took a deep breath. John is fine. John is fine. He will be here soon. Her eyes closed, and she allowed them to stay shut. She calmed her breathing and made herself relax. Slipping into a meditative state, she rested while still maintaining an awareness of her surroundings. When John came in, she would know. And when John comes in, she thought, I will let him know how I feel about his staying out so late without calling. It wouldn't be the first time Mister President had to sleep on the couch.
Some minutes later Delenn heard the door slide open, and heard John enter. It didn't sound right, though, it sounded like he was stumbling. Delenn brought herself out of her meditation, if he's drunk, she thought, he's in real trouble… Her eyes opened, she saw as John fall to his knees, holding his side in pain. His face was bruised, his clothes torn and bloodied. Anger evaporated immediately as she rushed to him. "John! Are you all right? What happened?" She fluttered around him, trying to hold him, but he kept shrugging her off and practically screamed when she tried to grab his left arm. He tried to speak, but he seemed to have trouble moving his jaw. He mumbled gruffly. "Call security." He panted. "Call Stephen." He grimaced and brought his hand up to his jaw. Delenn saw tears welling in his eyes. She rushed to the console and contacted security, then put a priority message to Doctor Franklin. She came back to John and gingerly helped him to the sofa. He leaned back gratefully.
"What happened, John?"
"I was attacked from behind. He had a fighting staff."
"Was it a Minbari who attacked you?" John nodded stiffly.
"Warrior Caste." He gasped.
"Don't move John. Help will be here soon. Security will find him." She cradled his head softly. John shook his head. He tried to speak again. "No, John, don't speak. Stephen will be here shortly. Security will find the man who attacked you."
"No." He shifted his weight. "They won't."
"I think I killed him." He turned his head and his eyes met hers. She saw the truth in them. She saw the fear in them.
"How?" It was more a whisper than a question. She wasn't sure she wanted an answer.
"I stabbed him." He closed his eyes and rested his head back on her shoulder. His voice was even softer than hers had been. "I think he was dead."
VIII. Hassan Hakmoun's Very Bad Day
Blood. Blood all over the damn place. It was in his clothes. It was in his hair. It was all over his hands. It was even in his mouth. He had had dreams about this. Horrible dreams where he was drenched in blood. He was floating, helpless, cold. That had been the dream he had. He always just assumed the blood was his own. He assumed that the floating coldness was death, or something close to death. He had been wrong.
Sheridan floated in the cold, dark capsule. The only lights on were the auxiliary ones. He had shut down most of the power in order to extend the life of the small, cramped escape pod. It had, according to the on-board chronometer, been two days since he had dragged Dean into this pod and cut them away from their ship. Dean was still in the restraints on the wall of the capsule. He had gone stiff, his face was completely glazed, he was bloated and blue. His blood had mostly coagulated by now. Dried chunks of it still floated about, but most of it clung to the walls or to John himself. He supposed he was lucky that it was so cold in here. Any warmer and the decomposition process might be further along than it was.
John had assumed a somewhat comfortable position using his legs pressed up against opposite sides of the space to hold him in place against the wall across from Dean. He had to shift his weight often to keep his muscles from cramping, but it kept him in place. Only when he slept did his legs relax, and he would go floating. He had woken up once, floating right next to Dean. He had opened his eyes and seen his dead blank face mere centimeters from his own. A few moments of hyperventilation passed before he had gotten himself under control and in position again. He hadn't slept since.
He closed his eyes, just for a moment. He felt the cold, stale air around him. For a moment he pictured the capsule from the outside. He pictured it tumbling, turning through space, no one around to see it, or know it was there. He pictured coming closer to the capsule, seeing the marks on the outside of it from small collisions over time. He pictured coming to the hatch, coming up to the small triangular portal in it, looking inside. He saw Dean, decomposed, rotting. Then, floating past, dead, blue and bloated, his own body hanging suspended in the capsule. How peaceful I look. Dangling dead in mid air.
John jumped awake. His legs had slipped, but he had not drifted far. He noticed the faint blinking on the sensor console to his right. He turned to face it. There was a ship out there. He couldn't tell if it was Minbari or Human. He could tell it was coming his way. He watched the blinking lights like a thirsty man watches an oasis in the distance. He hoped it was friendly. He hoped they noticed him. He hoped to God they would stop. He couldn't live in here any longer. He had air. He still had some water and some food ration bars. But he couldn't live in here any longer. Something in the back of his mind knew, even though consciously he did not acknowledge it, if that ship did pass him by, he would be dead before the light stopped blinking on his screen.
Delenn prepared herself for the ceremonies. It had been decided, by her, that she would attend this evening's events in John's place. John, even in his state had demanded to go himself, even though his presence there was to be purely for appearances, he had no active part to play. She had finally, after much arguing, convinced him that he could not be seen as he was, in an arm cast and with bruises all over his face and a swollen jaw. Stephen had been there earlier and given John some painkillers that had the added benefit of putting him right to sleep. She looked in after him. He was propped up on his pillows in their bed, sound asleep. His face was troubled, there were deep creases in his brow. He was dreaming about something. Maybe he was dreaming about Dean Mueller, she thought. He had mentioned Mueller a few times in the past few days, and she thought she had heard him muttering his name while he dreamed at night.
She walked over to him and gently pulled the sheet up over his chest. He was snoring softly. She lightly caressed his face. It disturbed her greatly that he had been attacked by a Minbari, one of her own. Logically she knew that she was not responsible for the actions of the Minbari on the station, but she still felt like she had disappointed John. She did feel responsible. She had failed in her quest to bring their two peoples together, even in the midst of all the great cooperation she had seen and experienced the last two days, something like this could happen. When will we all see, she thought. When will we realize we are all one and the same, no different from one another? She had to go. She would go to the ceremony, as John had wanted, she would carry on in her mission. For John's sake, and hers, and everyone else's.
Michael kept a close eye on Delenn. More accurately, he kept a close eye on everyone and everything around Delenn. John had been attacked, he was going to make sure Delenn was not. So far they had been able to keep news about the attack under tight wraps. They had removed the body of the Minbari warrior and cleaned up the corridor before morning business hours brought the normal traffic through the area. Through Delenn's resources they had discovered the attacker's name had been Trevan. He had been considered a prominent warrior in a leading house of his Caste some years ago. He had "fallen from prosperity" about two years ago. Those were the words Delenn had used. She hadn't volunteered an explanation as to what it meant. Michael supposed that at this point it didn't matter. No one had claimed the body yet. It remained in the morgue. No one had even reported a Minbari missing, which seemed odd to Michael. He would have thought someone would have missed him. Delenn hadn't seemed very surprised about it, though. Maybe there was just some Minbari cultural thing at work he didn't understand. He did understand that the last thing John needed was some big media scandal about attempted assassination and murder, even if in self-defense. This was far from over.
He watched carefully over the proceedings. He was not next to Delenn, he was in a more strategic location where he could keep an eye on all his men and see all the major influxes and outfluxes of traffic. His people were in uniforms in prominent positions around the area and the surrounding corridors. He also had them in plain clothes in areas of the crowed, for added protection. One such security man, Hassan Hakmoun, was to the immediate right of Delenn. He was dressed to look like an aide, but under his jacket he was fully armed and protected with a vest. He also had a direct link to Michael via an earpeice. Every now and then he would pretend to whisper something to Delenn, but actually be giving Michael updates on the progress of the ceremony and the look of the crowd. So far, so good. Nothing unusual had happened. He would be much happier when all of this was over with.
Erik squirmed through the masses in the cramped area. There were so many people here. Lots of them were Minbari. He had been a bit surprised to see Sheridan was absent from the stage at the front of the crowd, but his dismay immediately evaporated when he saw the lovely Misses Sheridan standing there in his place. The place was crawling with security. That would make this difficult, he would have only one chance at this. He had made it this far, though, he couldn't turn back. The security in the corridors had all been scanning and searching for weapons, but Erik had passed them all by.
What he had wasn't illegal, wasn't technically a weapon, but it was good enough for his purposes. He didn't want to kill anybody, that wasn't in his nature. Even in the war he hadn't felt like a killer. He had worked in bowels of the engine rooms of Earth's war ships. He had never fired a shot in anger, he had just stayed below decks, trying to keep the systems together as long as humanly possible. He knew a lot of things about engine fluids. That had been part of his job. Earth ship engines relied on many types of fluids. Some were just messy, some were sticky, some oily, and a few were highly explosive and had to be handled with extreme care. One of those explosive fluids, called simply DCS-66, was actually comprised of three different other fluids. One of which was a sort of acid that was harmless until exposed to oxygen. When exposed, it became highly corrosive, but only remained potent for a very short period. He had seen first hand what happened when that acid was in contact with flesh.
He approached closer to the stage. He slowed his progress. He didn't want to stand out in the crowd. Best to look like I'm just wandering closer, not pushing.
It had been just a few months after the war when Erik had seen it. One junior technician had been carefully mixing the three different fluids together in the precise proportions necessary to make DCS-66. There had been some kind of malfunction in the tank that held the corrosive, a seal had worn through, or some such thing, and the corrosive began squirting in a large blue arch across the work area. It smoked through the air, and burst into flames with anything it contacted. The area had been evacuated quickly, but the technician, was too close. It burned him only for a few seconds, before it went inactive. A few seconds had been all that was needed to burn away his eyes, and half his face.
Erik was right up front now. He felt the airtight vial in his jacket pocket. He was just about three meters from Ambassador Delenn's seat. He watched her from the corner of his eye, pretending to pay attention to the speaker at the podium. She had an aide next to her that didn't seem to interested in the ceremony either. He was a dark skinned man, stout with slicked back black hair. He sat gazing out toward the crowd. Erik thought he looked bored. Everyone around him seemed oblivious to him. They all gazed toward center stage. Erik knew this was it. He only had one chance at this, better make it count. He would mark her. He would mark that bonehead as the monster freak she was. Erik knew security would be on him in a second. He paused as the reality dawned on him. He would die. This would be his final act. Oddly the pounding in his chest eased somewhat. He couldn't help but smile. This would be his legacy. This would be his mark on history.
Hassan only caught a glimpse of the man in the front row as he pulled something out of his pocket. He reacted instinctively. "Mars," was the only word he spoke as he lurched from his seat. It was the code to Garibaldi that something was wrong. He saw the man throw something. It glinted as it arched through the air toward Delenn's position. A knife. The crowd had come to life, started surging in all directions. In one motion Hassan had pushed Delenn aside, out of her chair, and uniformed security surrounded her immediately. The glinting object was right on top of him now, he couldn't get out of the way. Just before it hit his chest, he saw what it was. It wasn't a knife.
Hakmoun hit the floor screaming. The vial had exploded on his chest throwing glass and smoking blue liquid everywhere. Med teams rushed to him. The dignitaries and guests had all been evacuated behind a living wall of security guards. The crowd was quickly dispersing in a barely controlled chaotic exodus. The liquid's acidity had been short lived, but before the Med team had even gotten in place Hakmoun's flack vest had been completely eaten through. His chest had only minor burns, but his face had been splattered across with glass and acid. The blood was spreading across the stage as Hakmoun's screaming faded into a gurgle before he finally lapsed into unconsciousness.
IX. Defeat Tastes Like Smoke
It was so cold. The ship shuddered, and rocked. Or maybe it was just he who was shaking. He couldn't tell if his eyes were closed, or if the power was out. Everything was dark. At least the pain was gone now. Now it was just cold. So completely cold. Things started to become still. All the sound, all the crashing, crunching noise receded. He felt a slight warmth in his chest. It was small, but it was there. He was dying. He had thought that for quite some time now, but now the thought descended on him with a calm certainty. He wasn't scared anymore. He was dying, and that was okay with him. He felt his body (was it really his body) being moved, he heard his voice (it seemed so far away) calling out. He sensed the hands of his friend, rather than feeling them. His friend's voice was warm, but distant. It echoed through the darkness he was now immersed in. His body (but not him) was falling apart, his mind (what was left) was being pulled further away. The warmth was growing. It was enveloping him. He was so far away from the cold now, he couldn't remember ever being cold. He couldn't remember ever being afraid, or in pain. The faint echo was only barely heard as what was left of Dean Mueller dissolved completely into the warmth.
"….hang on, Dean, we're almost there…."
Yes. He was there.
Erik Alacantarris woke up in MedLab coughing. He felt like dying. Why wasn't he dead? What had happened? He remembered feeling happy, he remembered throwing the vial… That aide had done something, but then the crowd had surged forward. Erik had been trapped between the stage and the undulating mass behind him. He couldn't move, he couldn't breathe…that was the last thing he remembered.
He warily opened his eyes. The room he was in was dim, quiet. Slowly he became aware of a figure sitting by the bed. Then he noticed movement on the other side of him. There were two of them. There was rustling. The lights came up slightly. Erik's heart pounded as he realized the faces above him. Michael Garibaldi was one of them. But Erik was transfixed on the other one. He was pale, and he looked ill, but his eyes held fire and the gaunt tight look of his expression led no doubt to the rage he contained. Erik Alacantarris had always wanted to meet John Sheridan face to face, now he was getting his chance.
John's fists clenched and unclenched alternately. Alacantarris had only received minor injuries after his attack. His arm and shoulder still ached. His jaw was in agony, but he couldn't not be here. This man, this creature, he thought as he looked down on the patient, had tried to kill Delenn. He had wanted to have a few 'words' with him as soon as he awoke. Michael kept a wary eye on his friend. Delenn had not been hurt, just a little shaken and jarred by the event. Hakmoun, though, would never be the same.
"Mister Alacantarris?" Michael started the talking, Alacantarris didn't take his eyes off of Sheridan. "Erik Alacantarris, from Proxima, isn't it?" He nodded. "Well, Erik, you know why my friend and I are here, so why don't you tell us why you did it?" Erik shook his head.
"I…I wanna lawyer. I'm not gonna say a word."
"Give me a break, Erik, there are hundreds of witnesses that saw you throw a vial of acid at Ambassador Delenn. We even have a witness who said he heard you conspiring before the event. You know a guy named Jay Slayton?"
That son of a bitch, Erik thought. He'd been sold out by his own buddy. That worthless fragger.
"Nope. Don't know him."
"Well he knows you." Michael leaned closer to him. "Why did you do it, Erik? Why did you want to kill the Ambassador?"
"I didn't wanna kill anybody! I was gonna get him!" He jerked a thumb toward Sheridan. Sheridan's eyes narrowed even further. "Then I saw that freak bitch was up there instead…" Michael was only barely fast enough to catch John's fist and keep it from smashing into Erik's face. His friend lunged toward Erik, Michael shoved him back. He held his hand up, John stayed back, glaring at Alacantarris. Erik didn't seemed fazed. "You've betrayed all of us!" He shouted at Sheridan. "You've sold out the memory of every human who died in the war! And for what? Her? That freak?" Michael knew he was losing control of the situation. He knew having John here was a bad idea. He put a firm hand on Erik's shoulder.
"I suggest you keep your mouth shut, buddy." Michael looked up at John. He stood motionless, glowering at Erik.
"I ain't saying another fraggin word. I wanna lawyer. I wanna fraggin' lawyer right the frag now!"
X. Good Morning, Heartache.
John sat on the couch, in agony. His mind still felt numb from the painkillers. The war was over. They surrendered. Surrendered! At the doorstep of Earth, all weapons of mass destruction bearing down on the bulk of the human race, and the Minbari had surrendered. There were celebrations across the globe to memorialize the victory.
The word left a bad taste in John's mouth. Victory was something that was earned, something won, not just tossed out like scraps before a starving dog.
John sat there, on the couch in his father's house in Geneva, confused and angry and numb. Only a handful of days had passed since the 'victory'. He had been on an Earth Medical Ship, being treated for the gaping wounds on his chest, neck, and arms left by some shrapnel from an exploding console. They told him he could go home. Medical leave. He could report back when the doctors cleared him for duty.
John heard the back door open. Lizzie was home. John didn't pay much attention to the noise. Lizzie made her way to the front room. She stood beside her brother.
"Johnny, how are you doing? Feel any better?"
John grunted. His voice was barely recognizable, the doctors said it would be awhile before he could speak clearly again.
"I brought a friend by. She and I worked together on lots of projects. We wont stay long if you don't want us too."
John growled under his breath. He didn't want to see anyone. More importantly he didn't want anyone seeing him. It was bad enough having Lizzie and his parents fluttering around him, he didn't want the mock sympathy of a total stranger.
Liz motioned her friend into the room. John watched as this beautiful redhead came around the couch and stuck out a hand in his direction. She was gorgeous. When did Lizzie get such good looking friends? John took her hand and shook it.
"John," Liz began, "this is my friend Anna. Anna, this miserable looking soldier is my brother, John."
"Nice to meet you, John. Liz has told me a lot about you."
John smiled softly. He wished he could say something, but his throat already felt like it was on fire just from the grunts he had made already. He nodded and looked over to his sister for help.
"John can't talk," Liz explained, "he was injured in the fighting." The sound of the com unit interrupted her, she excused herself and left to answer it. Anna took a seat next to John.
"I hope when you get better, we can get to know each other. Liz says we have a lot in common." John raised his eyebrows. Anna blushed a little bit. "You know, I think Liz might be trying to set us up." John grinned, and tried to look embarrassed, but for the first time all day, he felt much better.
Lennier stayed close to Delenn. Even though she had not been hurt in the attack, she still was very shaken. Two rangers were posted outside the door to her quarters, Lennier sat across from her at the small table, sipping the warm tea she had prepared. She had been very quiet. Sheridan had gone with Garibaldi to confront the man who had attacked her. He had noticed how battered Sheridan had looked. Lennier had not heard about Sheridan having an accident or being attacked, and yet he had been bruised and bandaged. He did not like being uninformed about things that concerned Delenn.
He noticed suddenly that Delenn was staring at him. Awkwardly, he put down his cup.
"Is something the matter?" Delenn shook her head.
"No, no. I'm sorry, I was just thinking." She looked at him quizzically. "May I ask you something Lennier?"
"What are your memories of the war?"
"The war? Well, I was at the Temple, in training, at the time."
"Hmm. These past days I have heard many different stories about the war, from many different perspectives, both Minbari and Human. I have spent much time thinking about my own role in the war. It occurred to me that I have never heard your perspective."
"Well," Lennier paused, he wasn't used to talking about himself, it made him uncomfortable, "I was in the Temple for the duration of the war. I heard stories of the battles, and of the loses and victories, but I was not an active part of it."
"Surely you had an opinion on it?"
"The council thought it was necessary…" he stopped when he saw Delenn's disapproving look.
"That was their opinion, what was yours?"
"I…" he looked at her cautiously "I had never met the great Dukhat." He noticed her reaction to the name, she hid it well, but not completely. "I wanted to. Once I left the Temple during a very important part of my testing to try to catch a glimpse of him in the Capital City. I arrived too late. I was almost dismissed from the Temple by my mentor because of my absence. I managed to convince him that my reasons were just."
"No doubt a hard task," Delenn interjected. Lennier nodded.
"Indeed. It was only a few days later that Dukhat was killed." He bowed his head slightly. "When I first heard the news, I was enraged. As were many of us at the Temple. Some of my peers left training to join the Warriors. I almost did so myself. I was so filled with fury, with rage over the death of a man whom I had never met, that I wanted to kill. I wanted to kill as many of them as I could." He forced himself to look up at her. He had never talked to anyone about this, he could hardly believe he was saying this now, especially to her. She met his gaze, her expression was calm, sympathetic.
"You were not alone in those feelings. We were all driven mad with the grief."
"I stayed at the Temple. Deep down I knew that was where I belonged, not on a warship. As news came back about the battles, though, sometimes I would question my decision. Almost all the ones who had left to fight, died. Sometimes I wondered if it weren't my place to die instead of them."
"But you never left?"
"No. That decision disturbed me for some time after the war had ended, but after a time I realized that I had made the correct choice."
"Good. There are few things in this life worse than regret."
Lennier looked up at her dark green eyes. He had to agree.
XI. Duty Filled My Head With Wonder.
"It is for love of duty, that I must resign…."
The words echoed around his head. The speech he had given on Earth after the civil war, had been genuine, truthful. He had prepared it only a few minutes before giving it. The whole day he had been hoping he could somehow stay in Earth Force. He had held on to that one vain hope of being able to legitimately wear that uniform again. He'd never wanted anything other than to be a military man. He loved Earth, he loved the Force. Painfully, he came to realize that the only way to keep the Force the same organization he loved, was to leave it. He had resigned. For the first time in his life, he had felt useless. What in the world could he do not being in the Force? What possible good was he? It was like stepping out into thin air, off of an impossibly high precipice. Something he thought he'd never have to do, again. His feelings had been temporary, as he had learned of the new Alliance's decision to elect him President. A very well timed vote, he had to admit. Love of duty, he thought.
What was Erik Alacanterris's duty? Or Trevan's? Did they love duty the way he did? Sheridan sat in the darkness of the morgue, staring past the covered body of the Minbari that had attacked him. The body of the man he had killed, he corrected himself. Sheridan had replayed the incident over and over in his mind. Every swing of the fighting staff, every step back and forward played in his mind's eye. Had there been anything else he could have done to avoid killing him? He saw the glint of the knife he had meant to give to Michael as he thrust it up into the Warrior's stomach. The look of shock, pain, and disbelief that took his face as he had collapsed. He felt in his mind the feel of the older man's blood as it made the knife slick in his hands. He heard the sound of tearing cloth as he had brought the knife up and back down again and again, until all movement had stopped, until all sound had stopped.
John gazed down at the bright white cloth that covered the body. His eyes traced over the folds of it absently. Trevan had been doing what he thought was his duty, and had been killed for it.
"Cowards die a thousand deaths, heroes die but once."
John had seen many people die before him, some of which by his own hand, some at the violent whims of others. He had always felt that no matter how justified his actions might be, life was sacred, any death of any one was a death for all. How many more times did he have to die? How many more times did he have to be killed?
How much more of a coward do I have to be?
Starkiller. At one time he had worn that label with pride. He even knew how to say it in the Warrior Caste's language. How many times over was he a coward because of that single battle? John sighed heavily. These were the type of thoughts he could never share with anyone else, especially not Delenn. She wouldn't understand. Even as much as John despised what Alacanterris had done and the reasons why he had done them, at least he wasn't a killer. Alacanterris had a lawyer. John suspected they would attempt to settle out of court. John would rather the little rat spent the rest of his life in a tiny cell with no windows. But the last thing he and Delenn needed was some media-circus court trial broadcast for all to see on ISN. No, John thought, the LAST thing they needed was word to get out about how he had killed an old Minbari on his way home. He was astonished that no news had gotten out. Delenn was handling everything. She said he didn't have to do anything. Just heal. Too late for that. The only way for him to atone was to die himself. Michael said he had a martyr complex. John didn't want to be a martyr, he wasn't worthy of that, he just wanted things to be fair. He stood and rubbed his eyes. He had been here too long, Delenn would begin to worry. His time was coming. Soon enough it would be time for him to pass and maybe, finally, be at peace.
XII. Shudder My Thunder Rolls
ISN SPECIAL REPORT
The official War Memorial Services being held on Babylon 5 came to an end today in a final gathering of veterans, both Minbari and Human. The services began three days ago with the hopes of uniting both sides of the conflict and bringing about a sense of healing. The reported attempt on Ambassador Delenn Sheridan's life was apparently not on the minds of those who attended the ceremonies today, as everything seemed to go smoothly. The man responsible for the attack is still being held by security on the station. Sources say he will likely plead 'no contest' to a charge of aggravated assault being brought up by the family of Security Officer Hassan Hakmoun who was seriously injured in the assault. No word yet if the Sheridans' will also press charges.
Sheridan sat at his desk, paperwork, more fragging paperwork. Nearly a week since the end of the ceremonies and everything had fallen, more or less, back into place. He took the time to stretch. His bruises were healing and his arm was out of the cast and in a much less noticeable healing sleeve. It had the same purpose and effect, but was easier to conceal under his suit jacket. His jaw was better too. Turned out it hadn't been broken, but he might still need some dental work. John sighed. Just as he was about to be completely recovered from his 'interrogation' on Mars, someone else comes along and bangs him up. He supposed when he healed from this, something else would happen, then something else… It never seemed to end.
He returned his attention to the mound of work before him. That never seemed to end either.
Lennier kept pace just behind and to the left of the Ambassador, as was his place. Before reaching the elevator she turned to him.
"Lennier, what are your plans for this evening?"
"I have no 'plans' as of yet, Ambassador."
"Would you like to join us for dinner tonight?" They entered the lift as it arrived. Lennier paused before answering. Dinner he didn't mind, but dinner with 'us'? He still felt awkward around Delenn and Sheridan together. And since he had told Delenn of his feelings during the war, he felt it was difficult to face Sheridan. He felt awkward around Sheridan any time. Especially since the Shan Fal ritual… Lennier banished the thought from his mind.
"I…uh…should not." Delenn looked disappointed. "I have some…research that needs to be done, I should do it while I have the free time." Delenn nodded. It was a lie. Lennier wanted to confess it immediately. It was minor, he told himself, Delenn would understand that he was uncomfortable. Delenn would not force him to do anything distressing. He willed the truth to come. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. The lie hung in the air, and around his neck. This is ludicrous! Why should he lie about such an insignificant thing, it went against everything he had ever been taught. But the shame would not release the confession. They were silent for the rest of the trip.
XIII. A Good Day To Be Alive, Sir.
John walked down the corridor with Delenn's arm tucked in his. They had decided to go out to eat, and somehow he had convinced Delenn to wear that little black dress she had wore on their first date. It had been pleasant reliving that evening, it seemed like it was so long ago. They had a leisurely dinner and a slow walk around the gardens, pausing ever so often to steal a kiss here and there. Talk was brief. It was nice to simply be in each other's company, in comfortable silence.
They entered their quarters and Delenn slipped out of her shoes and the wrap that had been draped around her shoulders. John wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her softly. Her arms slid around his shoulders, her fingers roamed through his hair. His kisses lingered around her shoulders and neck, she helped him out of his jacket. With a slight smile, she led him towards the bedroom. She closed the door behind them.
She couldn't think of a better way to end the day.
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