Following her father down the garden path, Candace caught her breath when the man in the leather jacket turned to meet them. She looked the other way for a moment as Peter made the introductions. It was the Ranger who had seen her in the library of the Anla’shok training compound after curfew. And just when she’d convinced herself Pop would never find out, he extended a dinner invitation to the guy who caught her. Her father’s boss.
Peter Carlacci reached out and slapped him on the shoulder. “Tomás, my daughter Candace. Candace, this is Tomás Darquin.”
Darquin smiled at her. “Pleasure to meet you. Feel free to call me Tom.”
A Minbari appeared beside them as if he’d materialized there on cue, gesturing and leading the way down another path to their table. As her father looked up at the green canopy of tall shade trees, Darquin gave Candace a quick wink.
She returned it with a smile. “Thanks, Tom. Pop has told me lots about you.”
“Whatever it was, I didn’t do it,” he said quickly. “Unless you thought it was real sharp. Then I really did!”
Carlacci laughed as they followed a waitress, a Minbari acolyte in pale grey robes, to their table. “I only told her the good stuff. I figured it was safer that way,” he said. “Besides, I leave the embarrassing stories to Mira. She’s much better at that sort of thing.”
“After all the time I spent in Medlab, I’m sure she’s got a few on me!”
“We’ve barely seen her since we made planetfall,” Peter said as he held out a chair for Candace. “She’s been so tied up in conferences, she got a chance to meet Candace and that was about it.”
“It was cool to meet a Centauri lady who wasn’t all snooty,” Candace said.
“Doctor Mira?” Darquin said.
Candace nodded. “She couldn’t come tonight. Some meeting with the Council, I guess.” Her eyes were a bit wide at the gravity of it.
“The business with Carter,” Peter said.
“Right.” Darquin rolled his eyes. “If they ever need a prosecution witness, I’m available.”
“They’ll probably be asking you for some kind of statement,” he said, then made a conscious effort to change the subject. “I suppose this is a silly question, but how much do you know about Minbari rituals?”
Darquin shrugged. “Uh, well, some. C’mon, I barely know the ones I grew up with.”
“We’re trying to figure out if I’m ready to do the coming of age ritual,” Candace said. “I think the Minbari are a few years older, but then, they live longer than humans do.”
“Well, you could work out the conversion from Earth’s rotation to theirs. If the Minbari are okay with it, no sweat.”
Candace nodded. “That’s what I keep saying!” She pulled her chair back and stood up. “Be back in a minute.”
Darquin watched her go, ruminating. That wasn’t the kid he’d seen sneaking around the Ranger compound after hours. Between the weariness in his bones and the glowing change in Pete Carlacci’s kid, it was hard to believe it had been six months ago and not six years.
As she turned the corner, Carlacci let his face fall into his hand.
Darquin frowned, confused. “What?”
“Oh lord. Yet another of the things they never tell you about fatherhood. What do I do, Tom? She’s practically grown up.”
“Yeah, but you haven’t had any trouble with her–” Right away, his mind took him back to his first encounter with her. “I mean, she’s okay, right? Relax.”
“I know. I just wasn’t expecting her to change so much when I wasn’t looking, you know?” He lowered his voice a bit. “I mean, my God. She’s got breasts!”
Darquin put his hand over his eyes. “TMI, Pete, TMI.”
Peter sighed and shook his head. “I’m sorry. Sometimes I just feel like I’m way out of my depth. Can’t help thinking Marie would have dealt with this … issue … way better than me.”
“Then she’d be here panicking about explaining boys.”
A wry grin spread across his face. “Maybe so. I got that one under control, at least.”
“I never had kids, so I’m not even gonna pretend I know your business,” Darquin said with a wide smile. “Where I can help, I’ll try. She’s a good kid, thanks to you. Well on her way to being a good grown-up. It’s not like she listens to half the jerks on ISN.”
He nodded, and picked up his menu as Candace returned to the table.
As she smiled at them and took her seat, Darquin leaned in closer to her father. “And if I look at her funny,” he whispered, “it’s your fault.”
Carlacci promptly hid his face behind the menu.
Darquin broke into an evil grin and wiped it off as if studying the menu.
After a moment, Carlacci rolled his eyes. “This is some kind of bad joke, I think.” He pulled his chair back. “My turn. Candace, order the spoo, Narn style, for me? Tom, whatever you want. My treat.” Shaking his head ruefully, he went off in the direction Candace had gone before.
He had barely gone out of sight when the Minbari acolyte returned to take their order. Darquin spoke first. “Lemme see, yogtree, some premurr on the side…Any orcha juice? Great, thanks.”
After relaying her father’s request, Candace said, “Klenn’sha. And a double order of yun-yun.” Once the waiter had gone, Candace looked over at Darquin. “So you didn’t ever tell him?”
“Of course I didn’t.”
“If I did, I wouldn’t have anything to hold over you.” He threw a glance at her.
“That’s not very nice!”
“I’m a Ranger. I can’t always be nice.”
“I’ll have to remember that,” she said thoughtfully. “I’m going to be a Ranger too, you know.”
Darquin gulped down his sip of water a little too hard. She sighed to herself, obviously bracing herself for an argument. He wasn’t sure about this little announcement of hers–or what to say. One could say she was only following her father’s example, even though it was a good one. But if she really was equipped to handle a big decision like this, dissuading her would’ve been as a crime. Who’d want to keep a young Mae Jemison or Sally Ride from ever hitting space?
Time to make her look in the mirror. “Does your dad know that?” Darquin said.
“Oh yeah. We’ve talked about it. I guess the only question is when. Maybe that’s why this coming-of-age thing has got him so shook up.” Candace picked up a chopstick, working it back and forth between her fingers. “I wasn’t really expecting that.”
“I…don’t think he did either.” He set his menu aside and reached over the table, gently nudging her menu out of the way so they could look at each other. “How much have you guys talked about this?”
“Some.” She hesitated. “I first mentioned it right before he came back from Abbai. I dunno, maybe that was bad timing.”
He looked over her shoulder. “Maybe it was.”
“He seems to think we still need to figure out if I’m ready. I’m beginning to think it’s the other way around, you know?” Her tone seemed almost worried, not the almost inborn teenage arrogance one might have expected.
“I do.” Darquin moved to a closer chair. “That’s why I’m gonna be just as uptight about it.”
“I don’t want to do anything stupid. It’s not as if–”
“Whoa, back up. Who said you were?”
She looked away, making a strategic withdrawal by way of a glance at the table. “I just want to make you all proud of me. Especially Pop.”
“He’s gonna be proud of you no matter what.” He pulled back the collar of his leather jacket and revealed the Isil’zha pinned there long enough to tap it with his free hand. “This is a tougher decision than it looks, though. More dangerous. Not everyone’s happy to see us.”
“I know,” she said. “Pop tells me about the missions he goes on, but he’s always … kind of left out the worst stuff. I wish he wouldn’t. I’m older now.”
He lazily flicked the zipper on his jacket, thinking. “I can show you some of it,” he said quietly, “if that’s what you really want.”
She nodded. “I know it’s gonna still be a few years before I can really make the final decision, but I want to know everything I can. That’s only right, isn’t it?”
He looked almost forlorn as he nodded back. “Sounds fair.” Then he raised one foot, tracing an invisible line over the ankle of his boot. “A year ago I got some hot shrapnel right here, when I was making an attack run on an alien’s base. It cut right through the canopy of my Starfury, right into my suit.”
“Whoa!” Her eyes went wide. “How’d you make it back to the Phoenix? She doesn’t go into atmosphere, right?”
“She can on paper. But she was already fighting three other capital ships. Lucky for me, the heat off the shrapnel actually sealed the tear. If it hadn’t…. God must’ve looking out for me or something.”
“Wow.” The word came out as a long exhalation. “I’m glad you made it back. And I do get your point, honest I do.” She glanced quickly to one side. “I think he’s coming back.”
“That’s just it. That’s just one of the wounds I got just in the last year.”
Candace paused as she heard her father coming back. “What about Pop?” she asked, deliberately pitching her voice loud enough for him to hear.
“He nearly got killed three times before he even got assigned to us–” He looked up at Peter, then back to his daughter…and in a new light at that. “The way I heard it.”
A slight frown appeared on Carlacci’s face as he sat down. “Have I missed something?” He caught the stern looks around the table. “Telling war stories?” He tried to make his voice light.
Candace quickly stifled that. “You’ve gotten hurt while you were out there and didn’t tell me. What about on Abbai?”
“I can take this,” Darquin said to Carlacci.
“Maybe this once?” he said, resigned, rubbing one temple.
Darquin held up a glass so she could see her own reflection. “What do you see?”
She smiled. She got these kind of riddles from her Minbari teachers all the time. It was fun to find out what the answers really were. “I see my own face, and the glass behind it,” she told Darquin.
“That’s what we saw there,” he said. “Kids like you. And younger, lots younger. All of ’em as fragile as this, emptied out by people bigger than them, left to die alone in the dark. It’s our job to find them and take their place in the dark, if that’s what it takes to let them be where you are now.”
The arrival of their food saved Candace from an immediate reply. Darquin managed to balance the glass on one fingertip and let his other hand catch it, juggling and drinking from it for the briefest of moments. When all the plates had been set down, and the waiter gone again, she took a deep breath. “And that’s what I want to do too, when my time comes.”
Darquin nodded with solemnity before turning to her father. “She’s got me there,” he smiled.
Carlacci nodded in agreement, reluctant but proud. “I’ve always planned on telling you the whole truth,” he said to her, “the ugly parts too. I guess … you just got a little ahead of me. I took a bad wound out there, that’s true. If Mira hadn’t been with me, I might have bled to death. It happened while I was protecting an Abbai girl not much older than you.” He smiled sadly. “If you want to know her story, I’ll introduce you to her. She came back with us.”
“I’d like that,” she said, before looking to both men in turn. “I don’t suppose anything fun, or nice, happened while you were out there, did it?”
“Well,” Darquin shrugged, “I saw a few girls, this one blond and a couple of really cute Centauri, but–”
She laughed, as Peter bit his lip to stifle his own laughter. As he composed himself again, he looked over at his daughter’s food. “You think you have enough yun-yun there?”
The rest of their dinner was more commonplace. Carlacci and Darquin filled Candace in on the finer distinctions between the various tenses used in Adronado, the language of the religious caste. If she really was going to join the Rangers, she needed to know now before she accidentally addressed a Minbari elder without the proper deference. After that, Darquin and Candace compared their favorite rock bands. Carlacci’s face went blank the minute they mentioned Maeve-N and Grim Constellation, whoever they were.
Later, Peter asked Darquin to join them on the walk back to the dormitories and invited him in for a nightcap. Her father went to a corner of their living room and bent over to open a mini-freezer, breaking into a clandestine grin. Candace had excused herself, hugging them both before she bid them a good night, as soon as they reached their quarters. After Darquin’s little dig at dinner, seeing him blush at her embrace gave Peter Carlacci a little satisfaction.
“What’s your poison?” Carlacci asked.
“As in alcohol? Here? Slick, let’s rid of it before the Minbari find it!”
“Bourbon, brevari — Mira brought that over — and my last two bottles of Lone Star.”
“If you can spare a Lone Star?” Carlacci instantly popped off one bottle cap and passed the bottle to him. “Thanks.” Darquin took his time, savoring his first taste, before he dropped his light demeanor. “How are you doing, Pete.”
Carlacci sighed before answering. “Okay, I think. Would it be out of line for me to ask what you were talking about while I was gone?”
“Pretty much what it sounded like. She was talking about being a Ranger. Asked about the risks.”
He cracked open the other bottle of beer and sat down, stretching his legs out in front of him. “I meant what I said, that I planned to tell her. I should have known –” Then he cut himself off. “I keep thinking about Marie again, the last thing she said, after I promised I’d take Candace. Before I had to leave her and beat it for the escape pods.” His dark eyes seemed to cloud over as he focused on the memory.
“What did she say?”
“Don’t look back, dammit.” He tapped with his foot a bent bottle cap on the floor. “Don’t look back.”
“Easier said than done, I know. I was there too.”
“The Earth-Minbari War,” he said, incredulous.
“Yeah. In ROTC just before it started. Got sent out the minute I got my wings.”
Darquin put his bottle down. “It just occurred to me: Here we are–on Minbar, part of a Minbari fighting force. After what happened to her in the war, what would she say about us? Would she want her girl here?”
“Tough question…she got into EarthForce when the war started. ‘Folks needed me,’ she said. She was willing to go under the gun, and I think she’d want her daughter to do that — if Candace thought it was right.” He sighed gently. “‘Do right by her,’ she said. I guess if that means letting Candace join the Anla’shok, that’s what I’ve gotta do. Keeping her from it, when it’s what she really wants, that wouldn’t be doing right by her.”
“She wants in. That’s all I know. If she’s going to do it anyway, we might as well teach her how to watch her back.”
“That’s true. I was gonna ask, if you’d help me.” Carlacci let himself smile as he raised his bottle. “I can’t think of any better pair of lead instructors.”
Darquin snickered as he picked up his Lone Star. “Then she’s in trouble already.”
Phoenix–“Everyone’s Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine” © 2002 Jamie Lawson and Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2002 Warner Bros.