Characters: Terry Hale, Sech Nelier
Things do not change, we do. – Henry David Thoreau
While she knew her path should soon turn toward the Phoenix’s arrival, Hale lingered a while, wandering down the quiet familiar paths of Tuzanor’s gardens. Her feet easily found the less traveled paths, good places for thought without the obligation of greetings and conversations. It was with surprise then that she found her path crossing with Nelier’s again.
He sat on a bench at the turn of one path, not far from the Ranger HQ administration building. He seemed almost to be meditating, gazing out at the gardens as he took deep taking calming breaths.
Terry stalled beside the high growth of a Se n’kai plant, and debated a retreat, unaware that she was being regarded from the corner of Nelier’s eye. He remained still and did not turn toward her until he saw the hesitation pass, and she stepped forward. She made a ruse of admiring the Se n’kai and he accepted it.
“It is a good tree, though its kind are more rare than they used to be. The fruit is especially pleasant,” he said conversationally.
Terry mimicked that same easy tone. “Is it? I have never been here when it was in season.”
“Hopefully, you will when it comes around again.” He paused, considering his words, and said, “You are very troubled, Anla’shok Hale.”
She clasped her hands behind her back, this time in concealment. “These things pass. It isn’t important.” It was a quick rebuff, and usually enough for most.
Nelier knew better, and now that it was just him and Hale, he could not let it pass. The trick was not challenging her directly; once she was completely on the defensive he’d get absolutely nothing from her.
An oblique thrust, he thought, and asked her, “Whose honor are you protecting, then?”
That made her pause, staring back until an answer began in the twist of her mouth. It fell short of real humor. “Is it possible for a group?”
“Certainly. One’s family, one’s clan, one’s temple …. Let me explain. It is often said that Minbari do not lie. I’m sure you’ve heard this.”
He leaned forward, a twinkle in his eye. “Let me let you in on a little secret. It’s not entirely true. To protect someone else’s honor, we will indeed lie. Thus, my question to you.” He sat back a little, his expression inviting.
Terry turned away, fixing a stare on the plant. “What if it’s the honor of the Rangers?”
“The honor of the Anla’shok will remain intact, even if you admit to what troubles you now. Indeed, I think you would honor us all much more by sharing it.”
“I never doubted when I came here, what it was that I was doing. It was for what could come if we didn’t stand. I also know the job is far from done. But the price that is demanded now….”
If Hale had begun to doubt her calling to serve, Nelier thought, it was essential to resolve the problem at once. The Rangers could not afford to have people who were there for the wrong reasons. Despite his alarm, Nelier kept his tone solicitous. “What price, Anla’shok Hale? And who is demanding?”
“The Rangers and my own conscience. Why is it I can do the right thing without it feeling that way? I keep my oaths and I follow my conscience, only to lose again a husband I thought dead, and a family with him.” With each word her voice tightened, strangled by the emotions she fought.
There was a long silence as Nelier took that in. “Now I begin to understand. You left them behind, on Earth. Again. Because, I presume, your heart told you that you must come back here?” he asked gently.
“I would make myself less than I am now, to turn away. I know that, but why was I never taught then, how to accept this?” she said, wounded and angry for it. “And why must it be this way?”
“Some things, even beings as wise as the Vorlons do not know. How to heal a …” he thought for a moment. The human word might be better here, “A broken heart is one of them. But perhaps, it does not have to end this way.”
Terry finally looked at him again, with a mix of hope and wariness. “How then? It’s done.”
“Most things can be undone. Can this one? Marriages among the Anla’shok are not without precedent. Even families. We have at least one child of an Anla’shok with us now.”
Terry sighed, disappointed. “That is, when they accept what we are, and what we must do. The separation, and what I have learned has made me something different. I didn’t regret it until now.”
Nelier nodded his understanding. “We all change with time and experience. But when we change more than others who are close to us … well, that’s a real pain in the ass, as you humans say.”
Terry blinked, startled into a laugh even if there was the hint of tears in it. “You don’t know the half of it.”
Nelier chuckled a little, pleased that he’d gotten her to laugh a little. A little more soberly he said, “You won’t do anyone, especially yourself, any good by punishing yourself for what you have become. I suspect, given time, those you have left behind will come to accept and love you for who you are. They will find — as we here already have — that they have much to be proud of in you.”
Slowly, as if she ached with what she carried, Terry stepped over to the bench and settled to sit at its far end. “I know here,” she said, tapping her forehead, “but only here. For the rest… I still feel cheated. And frustrated, and angry.” She sniffed. “Mostly angry by appearances, I suppose.”
“In light of recent events, I have made a point of studying human body language. Yes, you do appear angry. But now I understand why,” It was not the conflict he had expected, but it came to the same end, in pain. And it answered a lot about her earlier behavior — her anger had been directed to a safe target, hiding its true source.
“Now that you know, what then?” she spoke guardedly again, half- expecting some action or discipline. Nelier simply shrugged.
“I would offer you some more leave, but I doubt you’d take it. Failing that, I can offer advice, which you can take or leave as you wish.”
“There isn’t any time for more leave.” Terry smiled then at her own excuse. So far they were only looking towards a quiet shakedown cruise, likely traveling through the member territories of the Interstellar Alliance in goodwill. Not, as missions came, a difficult one to stall. “But what is this advice then?”
“Simply this: try to keep your heart open to what your mind already knows, and give the two a chance to become one again. And be kind to yourself. A Ranger is the embodiment of respect, compassion and delight. You deserve all three.”
Earlier she might have been goaded to irritable commentary, but now Terry nodded slowly, accepting the sentiment at least. “I am sure it will work out. It is just getting there that is hard,” she said ruefully.
Nelier nodded sympathetically. “I know. I always wish such journeys would end quickly. But always, always, I have to walk each step.”
“Yes,” Terry agreed. There had been no solutions beyond a goal, but nonetheless, a good measure of her dark mood had lifted. Her shoulders eased, relaxing free of private burdens. “Thank you,” she said quietly.
Nelier smiled, warm and gentle. “You are most welcome.”
After a few moments comfortable silence, Terry stirred to say, “I suppose I should be there to greet the Phoenix’s arrival, and I believe I have interrupted you as well.”
“I have plenty of time, and to be of some service to you makes it more than worthwhile. I was simply contemplating… the next work I have to do. A message to be delivered.”
“It isn’t pleasant, I take it.”
Nelier had wondered if she would be thinking of their earlier conflict, or the man at its source. Apparently she wasn’t, and it didn’t feel like a good time to remind her. “On the surface, it is good news … but the reason behind. No, that is not pleasant, I fear. But it must be done.”
Terry nodded and stood, automatically tugging her uniform back to order as she prepared to take her leave.
Nelier stood with her and bowed. “Good luck, Captain Hale.”
(c) 1999 Jamie Lawson and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.