Feeding the Hand That Bites You

Characters: Peter Carlacci, Margaret Morgan

Peter Carlacci allowed himself a long sigh as he watched G’fen leave the bridge. He was now frankly dreading the day when the Narn learned about him and Mira. As much as he hated to admit it, it almost seemed she was safer off the Phoenix and on an undercover mission on Centauri Prime.

With an effort, he put those concerns to the back of his mind and looked back down at the revised map of the Kotok jump area ahead of them. This was going to require a bit of delicate maneuvering, and it was information he shouldn’t keep to himself.

He looked across the bridge and saw Morgan at her tactical station. She should know. He walked across the bridge to her.

Morgan didn’t notice him coming – she was staring at a blank screen, tapping her stylus on her console.

“Shok-na’li Morgan?” Carlacci asked. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but there’s something I need to tell you about.”

She blinked, looked up at him. “Oh, Carlacci. You were just interrupting non-duty brooding.” She tried to smile. “What is it?”

“I’ve gotten some additional information on that off-beacon jump, near the Kotok colony,” he said. “Looks like there’s a big debris field in the area. I’ve got a pretty good idea of a safe spot to make the jump in and out, but we might want to have someone in the tac’ chambers just in case.”

Morgan thought a moment, then nodded. “All right. Show me on the map, so I have an idea of what we’re doing?”

As she stepped aside to allow him room, Carlacci stepped up to her console, replacing the blank screen with the updated images of the Kotok jump. “Here’s where I’d originally plotted our inbound jump,” he said, pointing. “As you can see, according to our new security officer G’fen, there’s a large debris field there. Refuse from the last Narn/Centauri war, apparently.”

He then pointed to an empty section of space. “So here’s where I’d like to make the inbound jump now. We should be in the clear at that point. But I’d like to do a high speed recycle of the jump engines so we can be out of there as quickly as possible. Could be that some of that debris field has moved, or G’fen’s information is a bit off. He did have to eyeball the data for me.”

She looked it over, nodded. “Good plan. Get up with Engineering before then, if they can help you any.”

He nodded, blanking the screen again. He considered a moment, then asked, “Don’t suppose I can help you, if you’ll forgive my asking?”

Morgan blinked, then gave a wry chuckle. “Sorry, I just…” Then she considered who she was talking to. “Perhaps. I am my niece’s guardian, and I have never been a parent before.”

He offered her a little smile, itself wry. “I’ve been a parent for about fifteen years, so if experience counts for anything … what’s her name? How old is she?”

“Elora. She is… eight. No, nine.” The fact that she had forgotten embarrassed Morgan.

Carlacci only shrugged. “Birthdays creep up on you. How long have you been her guardian?”

“Not a year yet. Most of that she’s been with my younger cousin on Babylon 5, but… a change was needed.”

“That’d be a tough place to raise a kid. Hell, any place would be tough when you can’t be there a lot of the time. Where is she now?”

Morgan bared her teeth, grimacing. “Minbar, at the new school the Benedictines have set up. I spent my leave getting her moved in.”

“I heard about that place. Actually, even thought briefly about sending Candace — my girl — there, but she’s been at Tuzanor long enough she’s used to it. You don’t sound entirely happy with the setup, though. What’s the problem?”

I’m happy enough — my family isn’t Catholic, but we’re Western Orthodox — but Elora is dead set against it. She had ‘friends’ on the station.” Her sarcasm was obvious.

“Was that the only reason you decided to take her to Minbar — that she was running into bad influences? And what do you know about the friends?”

“She was getting too much for my cousin to handle, besides the danger. I don’t know much about them,” she admitted, “but there aren’t many good families left there. The ones who could have left.”

“How is it that you came to be her guardian?”

Morgan paused, looking away. “When the Phoenix was on Earth, I found her in a government orphanage.”

The words were few, but enough for Carlacci to read between them. “My God,” he murmured softly. “I’m so sorry.”

She just shook her head. She was on duty, and refused to react.

Carlacci took a deep breath, trying to think. He hated to keep talking about this, but the more information he had, the better he could help. He only hoped Morgan understood that.

“I was lucky,” he said. “Candace was orphaned when she was an infant. “We didn’t have to talk until she was older. How much have you talked with Elora?”

Morgan stiffened a moment, hearing an accusation, then made herself relax. “When I found her, and a few letters after, then she stopped answering, and I got busy.”

Carlacci drew another deep breath. He hadn’t missed the change in Morgan’s demeanor. “I’m not here to pass judgment,” he said quietly. “I’m here to help, if I can. All I can do is offer you my advice based on my own experience – which might not even apply! I can’t know the situation better than you, no matter what happens.”

“I know, I know. I don’t often ask for help.” It wasn’t quite an apology, but that was something else she was working on.

“Would it be easier to talk about this when we’re off duty? We could talk over dinner or something,” he suggested.

After a moment, she nodded. “I don’t like… airing the family laundry in public, so to speak.”

“Fair enough,” he said with a smile. “Mess hall, say, 1830? Should be fairly quiet by then.”

Morgan was almost late. She was reluctant to ‘air family laundry’ to anyone, in public or not, and kept having to remind herself that was her father’s thinking. She managed a smile for Carlacci as she approached.

He grinned back at her over his dinner — a bowl of some kind of deep orange stew next to a large plate of rice. “Good to see you,” he said.

She nodded, sat down with her own. “What’s that?” She was curious, and stalling too.

Challaw kadu, if I’m not mangling the pronunciation. Afghani-style stewed pumpkin. One of the pilots — Rashid, I think her name is — is also an incredible cook.”

He ladled a large spoonful of the stew over the rice, then picked up a forkful. “I wanted to apologize for the third degree earlier,” he said. “I guess it’s my detective side coming out … I always want to have as much information as I can.”

She shook her head. “I understand – I have friends who do that too.”

“I took some time to think about all this before I got here,” he said. “First, let me make sure I’ve got the story straight. In the past year, Elora has gone from being with her parents, to the orphanage, to living on Babylon 5 with your cousin, and now to the school on Minbar. Right?”

“With her mother,” she corrected. “Her father was killed in the Mars bombings a while back, while on a business trip.” She grimaced.

Carlacci’s face had twisted into a sympathetic grimace itself. “Damn Clark,” he murmured. “They better be toasting his toes, wherever he went.” With a sigh, he looked back up at Morgan. “So here’s what I’m thinking. More than anything, Elora needs a sense of security and continuity. Her world has been turning upside down constantly. Whatever her friends on B5 were like, she probably felt safe with them. That would explain why she’s so mad at you now.”

“I guessed that, but I didn’t want her in any more trouble. And when I left her on Babylon 5, there wasn’t really any other choice. Yours is at least old enough to somewhat fend for herself.” She smiled a little.

“Right, I understand,” he said, nodding quickly. “I didn’t join the Rangers until Candace was twelve, and we both had to do some fast talking to convince the Minbari she could live in Tuzanor. Until then, she’d always been with me.”

He paused for a bite of stewed pumpkin and a long swallow of strong black tea. “And you definitely did the right thing, getting her off Babylon 5. The thing now, is to figure out how best to give her that sense of safety and continuity she needs.” He blew a long breath out his nose. “And that can be hard, when you’re not always there. I’ve learned that over the past three years.”

“You see my problem.” Her mouth quirked, then she finally bit into her sandwich. “I did the best thing I could think of.”

“Definitely,” he said. “I think the best thing you can do for her now is to talk with her, as much as you can. Burn up the StellarCom lines if you have to. She probably won’t appreciate it for a while, but she’ll come to expect hearing from you.”

He pondered a moment, then said, “Another thing … if you think it would help, I could ask Candace to visit her now and again. Nine to fifteen’s a big age difference, but with any luck, Elora might find a person to look up to.”

Morgan fell silent a few moments. “I had thought about that, but didn’t want to ask.”

Carlacci grinned. “Well, now you don’t have to. And I think it’d be good for Candace too.” He chuckled ruefully, running a hand through his hair. “She’s decided she’s going to join the Rangers too, soon as the Minbari and I say she’s old enough.”

“Which is when? When she is 30?” She actually managed a smile.

He chuckled again. “The Minbari were ready to have her go through their coming of age ceremony now, though she’s just turned fifteen. But I think we’re going to compromise at eighteen … or maybe seventeen.”

“Good luck with that. I would not have been… terribly compliant when I was that age.”

“I don’t know that I’d call Candace compliant, but we’ve always been able to talk and work things out.” He smiled. “She’s a good kid.”

“Good.” She paused. “I have no idea what to do with children. I feel lost when trying to deal with Elora,” she admitted.

“My way, and I have no idea if it’s right or wrong, is to just treat kids like other people. I mean, you don’t invite ’em to split a bottle of beer or whatever, but you don’t have to talk down, either.” He scraped the last few scraps of stewed pumpkin out of the bowl. “The other thing that I’ve found works out well, is to think about how you were treated when you were a kid. If you liked it, great. Go with that. If not, how did you always want to be treated?” He looked across the table. “Am I making sense?”

Morgan nodded. “Yes. Thank you.” She looked down at the remains of her sandwich, wondering what else to say.

Carlacci waited a minute, then said, “If you can give me the information about the school, I’ll get in touch with Candace so she can pay Elora a visit.” He grinned as he slid his dishes aside. “Good thing it’s the Benedictines, and not the Jesuits, running the place.”

Morgan couldn’t help but laugh. “I wouldn’t do that to her, though I do wish it were the Celi De or something.”

Carlacci smiled. “I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that order, but it sounds like it would be a good fit just from the name.” He pulled his wallet out of a pocket and extracted a holoplate. “Before I go … you have to look at Candace’s picture.”

He handed over the holoplate, showing a teenaged girl, dressed in casual Minbari clothes, sitting on the edge of a fountain. Her dark brown eyes twinkled out of a face the color of a coffee latte. Her hands were behind her head, creating twin “rabbit ears” for herself, and her mouth was wide with a mischievous grin.

Morgan laughed harder than before, appreciating the fun of it.

Carlacci grinned, pocketing the holoplate. “I think she’ll be good for Elora – and Elora will be good for her, come to that.” He picked up his dishes. “I’m afraid I’d better run. But we’ll definitely be talking again. I sure hope this helps both of you.”

“Thank you for the help, even if it doesn’t. I didn’t know where I could turn.”

“Glad to be there for you. Any time.”

Copyright © 2002 Jamie Lawson and Leslie McBride. All rights Reserved.


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