Characters: Dr. Hellecat Brannon, Tomás Darquin
Tomas Darquin looked at the sullen trio that had been brought into the Security Office. “Hellooo, children. I suppose you’re wondering why I brought you all here today.” He beamed. “I always wanted to say that!
“Anyway,” he said as he walked around his main console, “I would’ve gotten to you guys sooner, but I was busy making the ship safe for democracy. As you’ve probably figured out by now, we’re here to talk about that little incident you boys got into.” He leaned against the front of the console and made eye contact with each member of the squirming trio as he continued. “Well, that’s not true, I’m gonna talk and you’re gonna listen.
“Now, pulling a deadly weapon on one of your shipmates….Is that what you’re supposed to do with people that are trusting you with their lives?”
He stopped to gauge their reactions. Darquin never thought of himself as a Sherlock Holmes, but he figured that a direct poke at the issue of trust would shake loose something that could give away a possible saboteur. A saboteur with a conscience would get an angry, defensive look on his face or act stung when that comment hit a little too close to home, while a sociopath or a fanatic would be a little too calm…unless he’d had a lot of practice.
“Now, if this were EarthForce, I’d be able to bounce your heads off the bulkheads till you evolved. But we’re not, so I won’t,” he sang cheerfully. “Instead, you clowns will be confined to quarters for the next four solar weeks. No leisure privileges.” He allowed them a second or two to grumble. “Do I hear eight!” Silence. “Kinda figured. If you violate curfew, you better like grey water ’cause I’ll get you water recyc duty on top of your regular duties.
“Oh, and Mr Jones?” He held his free hand out, palm up, wiggling his fingers until Jones handed to him the hilt of the sheathed knife. “Thanks. Now remember, I’m watching you. And if you guys even blink funny, I’ll ship you back to Babylon 5–in crates. Now get out.”
Tianmun led the three offenders out just as another Minbari brought a fourth Ranger through the door.
“Hey, you must be….” Darquin mumbled as he consulted his datapad. “James MacGregor, right? Chop off any heads lately?”
MacGregor looked down to the floor to hide the bitter frown on his face. “With…respect, Chief, I didn’t start–”
Darquin raised his hands, as if to show that he was unarmed which, thanks to the holster at his side, was clearly untrue. “I didn’t say you did.”
“All right,” MacGregor said cautiously, “then why am I here?”
“Well, we got a problem or three. First, you brought a weapon onto this vessel. Fine. About a third of the crew have personal weapons in their effects, including me. But second, it was involved in an altercation aboard this ship.”
“But I didn’t use it in the fight. It’s a family heirloom. I wear it to represent my clan.”
“It was there,” Darquin said. “In the middle of a fight. On a ship where we’re supposed to work together.”
MacGregor nodded slowly, sighing with resignation. “Very well. What are you going to do?”
“Confine you to quarters and the meditation areas during leisure hours for the next four weeks. And the next time you want to take that blade out of your quarters, notify Security. Like you said, you didn’t use it on anyone, and my info seems to confirm it. So if everything’s cool after that, we can lift the restrictions.”
“I understand. Good night, Chief.”
Darquin gave him a nod as he turned to go. Like clockwork, Tianmun passed him on their way through the doorway.
“The three malcontents are in their quarters, the doors locked,” she said.
He left his datapad on the console, whistling the intro to a Jim Morrison number. “Good. You can hold the fort here. I think I’d better go up to Deck Two and join the party detail.”
“But sir…you have been on duty ever since you led the security team to White Star 24.”
“I know,” he said wearily. He checked his PPG holster and his folded fighting pike, smoothing out his Ranger’s uniform. “But I have a bad feeling about the next few days. The whole ship is under a lot of pressure, especially after the funeral. That business about the fight might be a sign of the times.”
“I never thought you were one to observe omens, Lieutenant.” Tianmun smiled just sweetly enough to make Darquin suspicious.
“Can’t afford to ignore them.” He smoothed out the cloak of his Ranger’s uniform, lobbing a knowing glance and a smirk at her. “Not with so many… shadowy things going on.”
Darquin went into the lift and up to the Shadow’s Corner bar on Deck Two, doing his best to give everyone a smile and a nod as usual, as if nothing was bothering him. The funeral ceremony for White Star 24 had disrupted the routine aboard ship…really rattled the crew. Braving Vorlon space was pressure enough. But they had to keep going. As Johnny Cash would say, “just drive on.” Where they could find no strength, they had to inspire it. Or invent it from whole cloth.
Between floors, letting his mind wander about the lift for the first time in days, he caught himself dwelling on it. A funeral…for an entire ship. He stepped out of the lift and started the final leg of his trip to Shadow’s Corner, making sure he gave people a confident nod as he went on.
The first thing he noticed when he entered was how quiet it was. Not exactly silent, but low-key. The festive rumble of a hundred thriving conversations had been replaced by a sporadic, more sedate buzzing of voices underscored by the clinking of glasses and dishes. The place was little more than a secondary galley with a row of bottles behind the serving bar, a few tattered advert posters from famous drinking holes tacked up on the walls. He ran his eyes over the room which noting faces and their locations, and out of the twenty or thirty people there, he saw only a few exchange words.
He stopped a moment at the sight of a redhead sitting at the bar. After a few seconds, watching the Ranger run a weathered, child-like hand over her hair, he realized that he recognized the back of her head from somewhere …when medics were working on the refugees from Minbar. Helle Brannon? I guess even doctors need a break–
Grinning, he turned to join the blond Ranger standing a few meters from the door. “Top o’ the evening to you, Jimmy boy.”
“All right, all right.” The wide smile on the man’s face made it clear the grumble in his voice was just for laughs.
“Okay, Jim,” Darquin said, “so how’s it going.”
“It’s louder in the meditation rooms, Chief. It’s been like this for as long as we’ve been here.”
“No letting off steam, just a mutual licking of wounds.”
Jim nodded, tongue in cheek as he looked downward. “They get their drinks, pick out tables, and that’s it.”
“Damn fool idea anyway.”
“Having a bar?”
“Yeah. To me, anyway.”
“You can’t stop booze, Chief.”
“Nah, nah, that’s not what I mean.” Darquin exhaled, looking out at the room, arms across his chest. “Somebody brewing their own private rocket fuel, fine. That happens all the time.”
“Heh. Starfury Juice, vintage 2260.”
Darquin nodded, chuckling. “Exactly. But that’s totally different from getting a big chunk of the crew in one place to do nothing but get buzzed. Asking for trouble.”
“We all need to let off steam.”
“Alcohol’s a depressant, kiddo. Only so much that’ll do for steam in the long run.”
Through the hazel reflections in the liquor bottles behind the bar, Helle Brannon watched the conversation going on between Darquin and one of his security people. It looked as if they were talking about her when they glanced a few times in her direction, but those glances weren’t frequent enough to clinch it for her.
That was fine with her. She couldn’t stand the thought of herself sitting there, dispelling the daily angst with her daily quota of drinks, while someone was laughing at her expense.
The last few days had felt as if she was being subjected to a rigorous test of some kind. In that time, she’d seen more autopsies than she had done over the course of her medical career. She’d never seen so much horror in a person’s eyes, alive or dead, until she saw the bodies from the White Star. Something about supervising and operating on the dead dulled her senses, made the fingers go a bit more numb every day. And yet the backs of her hands felt taut enough to snap in two and a slight tremor in one of them that wasn’t from the alcohol.
Watching the hand holding her glass with a clinical detachment that she tried to reserve for Medlab, Helle willed the slight movement to stop. It was her hand–she was the one who decided when and what it could do!
With a self-mocking laugh she emptied her glass in a quick biting swallow, convinced that the next wave of lightheadedness would keep it all out of her hair for a few hours. “Same again, please.”
As the Ranger tending bar took her glass, she recognized one of the nurses as he and another person came to the bar and ordered drinks. She was fairly sure his name was somebody Lee? David Lee? John Lee? Sorry-Lee? Forgetful-Lee? He had assisted her with the second day’s worth of dissections. Beyond discussing their findings and vocalizing them for the recorders, they never said much to each other.
Lee leaned on the bar, turning his back to her as he spoke to his companion, apparently completing a thought. “Well, compared to Mars, this stuff was pretty ordinary. Except for their faces, nothing unusual. We couldn’t find anything.”
She sighed quietly, grateful when her glass came back full. Turning away ever so slightly, she took a much needed sip. She didn’t want to think about the last few days work, much less hear someone discussing it.
Discussing, dissecting, probing, poking, slicing, dicing messing about in somebody’s insides – it felt morally wrong and this time had proven to be next to useless. Chalk up another one for the great mysteries of the universe. Oh, and sorry about your earthly remains buddy, the scalpel slipped a bit but then you won’t need those where you’re going anyway. Did I say going? I meant gone. Going, going, gone. Three strikes and you’re out baby. The fat lady has sung, the band has packed up and Elvis has left the building.
“Frankly, I’m glad we stopped looking when we did–Oh, thanks.” Lee dragged his glass over the bar top. Over the lull in the conversation, it sounded like an avalanche. “After a couple of days, the strain was starting to show. A scalpel nearly slipped out of one of the doctors’ hands. Good thing the guy on the slab was dead or else we’d get nailed for malpractice.” That earned a nervous snicker out of his companion.
Helle grabbed Lee by the shoulder and spun him around, growling something under her breath as she threw her drink in his face, glass and all. A collective gasp from the room filled the moment when her glass smacked his face, one long moment just before he responded by giving her a sharp shove into the bar. The bartender tried to hold her back, but she yanked her arm free and pushed herself off him, slamming into Lee as she lashed out with her fists, nailing one solid blow to his jaw. The next few seconds of sensory data blurred in her head: some shouting, shoes scuffing wildly against the floor, breaking glass, her skin burning where fists or crushing fingers struck her, bursts of air, her hands and feet hitting something solid, the feel of fabric tearing under her fingers and the almost inconsequential pain of a fingernail ripping away. Before she knew it, she was being pulled off him amidst a pandemonium of raised voices.
“Back off, everybody back off! Jim, hold him back!”
“Come on, come on–”
She recognized Darquin’s voice behind her when a Minbari fighting pike extended out in front of her and pinned her against the body directly behind her, pulling her away.
Everyone and everything froze in place at the shrill whine of a PPG powering up. All eyes turned behind her to Darquin, barring her path with his fighting pike in one hand and his PPG in the other.
“The next one gets a visit to the Medlab burn unit! When I say back off, I mean it.” He waited a full second before powering down his gun. “Better. Those two, take ’em to the office. The rest of you, clear the room. Only assigned personnel come in till the next shift. Move it!”
He withdrew his fighting pike as people began to leave and Helle stepped away from him. “Not you, Doc. We need to talk.” He nodded toward the nearest pair of chairs.
Helle stood her ground, speaking softly. “Am I under arrest?”
“Depends on why you threw the first punch.”
She sighed, flexing the offending hand and wondering about that same question herself — so much for her hand doing what she wanted it to! Realising Darquin was expecting some kind of response, she shrugged her shoulders. “Can’t say.”
“Not exactly your style, though, is it. What’s going on, Doc.”
He waited for a response, one corner of his mouth gently twisting forward as he grew more impatient. She continued to stare at her hand. “No…? Okay, we’ll spend some time in the brig.”
“Wait a minute.” She looked into his eyes. “We?”
“Yeah, but you’re doing the first hour on your own. I got reports to fill out. I’ll get you some water and some oxygen tablets.”
“Bar, booze, fight, sober up real fast. I know the routine,” Darquin said quietly. The uncomfortable expression on his face made his sincerity clear enough. The crooked grin was sympathetic and the dark eyes wavered all over the place, devoid of sarcasm.
Helle nodded, straightened her shoulders and let one of the security people lead her out as a few people started cleaning up the room, rearranging chairs and wiping up the mess. Behind him, getting swept out of everyone’s way, the broken glass rang unevenly. Darquin followed the remnants of the crowd out the door and met Jim in the corridor where two more security personnel were taking positions, guarding the door.
“Maybe you were onto something after all,” Jim said, grinning.
“Big whoop. Some proof I can live without.”
“Were you really going to use that gun in there?”
Darquin rubbed his face. “I was prepared to. But even on the lowest setting, it would’ve been nasty. You got it covered here?”
“Good.” He started moving toward the lift down the corridor. “I gotta go down and chew out a few more goofballs before I have a talk with Doctor Brannon.”
“Gonna tell the CMO?”
Darquin stopped and turned around to face the other end of the passage. “Once I have something to tell ‘er.” He shrugged and pulled a smirk. “Maybe Security isn’t the best way to meet new people after all.”
Copyright (c) 1998 Denise Cox and Joe R. Medina. All rights reserved.