Centauri Prime, capital city
Mira crossed the darkened city in a state of silent constant vigilance. She was always a bit more paranoid after a job and passing a rubble strewn former park made her shoulder blades itch. She kept one hand close to the PPG in her coat pocket. The criminal element had proliferated like spores ever since the orbital bombing weeks earlier, creating a pervasive atmosphere of imminent ambush in every broken street in the city. And all the streets were broken.
Her new home, a cracked and dusty tenement house, was much the same. Thin walls, a thinner roof, a cot, a stool, sometimes a mirror were the only comforts provided. Dozens of places just like it had sprung up in the rubble. None of them kept the cold out. It was a small room, but it came with a mirror. The communal toilet down the hall was a hole gaping directly over the sewers. Still, it was more convenient than a bucket.
After carefully checking her door for signs of recent entry, she unlocked it and went inside. Her battery-powered lamp woke at her arrival, casting long shadows.
One of them spoke. “You’ve been out late.”
Mira pulled her PPG, the gun charging with a shrill whine, and aimed at the new shadow in her room.
Then a hand clapped over hers and snatched the pistol. She lashed out instantly with her other hand, desperate to blind, maybe a chance to run–
“Hey! Cool your jets, damn it, it’s me!”
She blinked owlishly at the Ranger in the dark. “Darquin?”
He wasn’t wearing the traditional Ranger uniform, but she recognized him once he stepped into the light. By Centauri standards, even for the lowest of the low, the fabrics were coarse and drab: a plain shirt, jeans, and a leather jacket. She remembered seeing Darquin wear such things aboard the Phoenix. He looked much the same as she remembered, except dirtier.
“Hell of a welcome.” Darquin lobbed her pistol back into her hands, sounding grim at first, then chuckling. “Your reflexes improved. Nice draw too.” The PPG sat half forgotten in her hand, the hum fading away. Mira shut the door. Her neighbors either never heard the tussle or were studiously ignoring it. She stepped over to the cot and sat down heavily. When she finally spoke, she spoke in Lenn-ah. Of all the foreign languages that she knew, she was always most comfortable in the Minbari Worker Caste’s language. It held happy memories for her… although not as many as English. English reminded her of Peter. Dear, sweet Peter. But lately, English was too recognizable.
“What are you doing here, old friend?” she asked.
Darquin followed her suit, answering in worker caste. “Returning this.” He leaned forward and gently placed her Isil’zha in her lap. “Sending it back, just like that? You really thought it was that simple?”
Mira watched him, startled and confused. “I tried to serve, but I’m not a Ranger. The teachers had no business calling me one.”
“That damn thing belongs to you.” Darquin jabbed a finger at the brooch. “It was made for you, forged and cooled with your blood. It’s literally part of you. And you’re walking away from that?”
“I’m not walking away,” she snapped. Mira’s gaze and tone had sharpened only for a moment, a brief flare of her old spirit before it guttered again. “I’m crawling. I am no longer a doctor. Not quite an assassin. Certainly not a Ranger. Is my blood more valuable than the blood I have shed, here on Centauri Prime?” As she stared at the brooch on her lap, she whispered, “I am as damaged as this symbol. What use do you have for broken people?”
Mira picked up the brooch, caressing the cracked jewel gently with her thumb, and offered it to Darquin. “I will stay here and work at liberating other victims of the Shadows. After all, the Centauri are long accustomed to soulless killers and the Rangers deserve better.”
“Aw, don’t flatter yourself.” Darquin took the Isil’zha while Mira was still in shock, glaring at him, wounded by his nonchalance. “You think you’re the only one who’s done things they’re not proud of? C’mon, Mira.”
“Did you travel 100 light years just to be cruel? To punish me?” Mira leaned back on her cot, resting her head on the wall behind it. “I forgot what a pleasure that was.”
“What about Pete? Have you thought about that, how he might feel?”
Mira looked away. “I love him enough to let him go. I’d rather he didn’t know the details about…all this.”
“If you quit the Rangers, he’ll find out eventually, no matter what. And the condition he’s in, there’s no telling what that might do to him.” A nervous tone crept into his voice, a radical break in his verbal assault. “He’s in bad shape, being treated on Minbar.”
Mira became very still, and stared at the place she had hidden Peter’s betrothal token. She heard herself ask, “What happened?”
“I can’t give you all the details, but… we were ambushed in deep space. The main bridge was hit really hard. Pete was at the helm when it exploded practically in his face. Third-degree burns all over his hands and arms. He’s on Minbar now.”
Darquin’s words washed over her like a bath of fire. She didn’t seem to notice her tears as she smiled at Darquin. “But he’s alive and he’s healing. The Minbari doctors are true healers. He will recover.”
“Wouldn’t he recover faster with you to help him?”
“I’m not much good to anyone right now.”
“Your recent activities tell a different story.” He saw Mira frown. “And yeah, you killed people. To survive. And I’ve seen a lot more. You’ve gotten pretty good at extracting key people from this place. I know about the girl with the data crystal. She even got a military escort to the jumpgate, thanks to you. And the scientists you snuck into that scrap barge? Really choice.”
Darquin crouched in front of her. “Mira, you’re no monster.” Carefully he took her hand. “And you’re not useless… or as broken as you think you are. You just need the same thing we all need sometimes….a little redirection and a change of scene.”
“Change of scene?”
“Come back to Minbar. Take care of Peter for a while. He needs you. Candace misses you too. She could use a friend. And on the way, you need to bring some folks with you. One last rescue.”
“But – ”
“Uh-uh. I’m done arguing with you. You’re still a Ranger.” Darquin slipped her brooch back into her hands, grinning at her. “And I still outrank you.”
ISA Phoenix: “DNR” © 2009 Mona Hinds & Joe Medina
Babylon 5 ™ and © 2009 Warner Bros.