Where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valor to dare to live.
– Thomas Browne
Lying on a Minbari bed in a cell, with a data-book under one hand, Dunstan Kordieh slept. He had been there for some time, having been moved from Medlab shortly after regaining consciousness. He woke from nightmares, and would turn to the book to try and restore whatever semblance of order he had in his mind now. It was a copy of the Minbari sacred scrolls, a parting gift from his nurse Daanike. Calmed a bit, he would sleep again, wake from nightmares again, turn back to the book, sleep again.
Metal cast on one leg, Darquin eased himself down into a seat at his desk, leaning on his extended fighting pike for support. He was starting to feel like a cross between Gandalf and Captain Ahab. His ankle had been sealed up, the shrapnel long since gone, but the bones and ligaments needed more time. His leg really should have been up, in a bed especially–he was certain that Helle or Dr. Mira would say so–but no one was about to get their wish for a while.
He looked around the Security Office. Every access panel sported a scorch mark where circuitry took a little too much during the battle. The floor was covered in data crystals and shards of broken monitors, except for spots where people had cleared paths through the mess.
He nodded to himself. It was a Grade A1 mess at that. The computers weren’t running, but the comm system was still up. At least he could sit where he was and keep track of his people without walking all over the ship. Even the more pushy members of the crew were behaving, but there was still a lot to do: fighter patrols, impromptu shift rotations, tracking down the dead and the missing, and sending people into other departments who needed more hands.
But here, it was quiet. This was probably the closest he’d ever come to a break. He sighed to himself, actually able to summon up a grin when the console signalled an incoming call. “Security.”
Female was all he was able to get from the single clipped word from the console intercom. The static didn’t help. Every system aboard was still on its last legs after the bombings and the battle. Darquin leaned and tapped the comm to open up the channel. “Darquin, Station House.”
It was Captain Hale. This was a call he’d been expecting ever since he heard what happened in Medlab. “Darquin, if you could have someone bring Kordieh up to my office.” Hale’s brisk speech paused, and in a harder tone she added, “The long way.”
“Okay, I’ll be right there. Any special precautions you want me to take?”
“Just see he gets here. I trust you’ll take the right precautions. Hale out.”
As that channel closed, he tapped the keys to open another. It was time to use the call code he’d memorized just for the occasion. “Four-nineteen Brig. Four-fifty-nine.”
Kordieh had just woken from another nightmare when Darquin limped into the room, two of his staff behind him. “Kordieh. The captain wants to see you.” Kordieh glanced at his eyes for a moment, and stepped off the bed quickly, realizing that this was not the time to say anything.
Darquin led him through the shattered passages of the Phoenix, past improvised hospital wards – and improvised morgues. The people they passed often startled violently when they saw him, and then looked quickly away – or followed his path with unconcealed hate in their eyes.
Through it all, Darquin was silent, his pike ringing on the deckplates with each limping step, never loosening his grip on the PPG in his other hand. In the middle of the third staircase up, Dunstan asked quietly, “May I help you, Anla’shok Darquin?”
“Like hell.” He raised his PPG to emphasize the point, and Kordieh did not speak to him again.
By the time they had reached the wreck of the bridge, Kordieh had begun to whisper to himself, trying to remember words he had not spoken since childhood. They came to him only in French: “Benissez-moi, pere, pour moi ont sinned.”
Darquin walked Kordieh through the silenced Bridge to the captain’s office. The two guards went as far as the door. Darquin ushered Kordieh in himself to see the captain.
The destruction within was the same, if not greater for where it fell in the priority list of repairs. Cables were hastily spliced back together overhead and clipped out of the way, the debris was simply swept aside in narrow paths radiating out from the center of the room. Hale sat at the hub behind her desk, pale green eyes casting a glacial chill on Kordieh, her desk empty of any other distractions. There was nothing left in one piece to decorate it.
“Do you want me to step outside?” Darquin asked.
“You can stay, as this will probably be as important to you,” Hale said.
Silent, one hand clutching his data-book very tightly, Kordieh struggled to meet Hale’s gaze. Unlike the company he kept, he was uninjured save for a small scratch on one cheek. Tired and sad, he stood for judgment in plain black clothes, both uniform and Isil’zha taken from him. The real damage – and the beginnings of healing – showed only in his eyes.
It wasn’t the person she expected to see, but then she never expected to have to look for a murderer within the uniform of a Ranger. Mentally shaking herself, she finally addressed him after a long silence.
“So many questions, but do you know the one that keeps coming back?”
Kordieh’s voice was painfully like the one she remembered from his brother Lucius. “Why?” he answered quietly.
“Yes. Can you answer that?”
“I was insane, Captain. Quite mad. Still, I did what I did. I don’t deny it.”
“That helps,” Darquin muttered. Kordieh winced slightly, but said nothing.
“But why? What did you gain by… this.” Hale waved at the destruction around them.
“I believed that you, me, everyone aboard this ship, was already dead. That it was up to me to send us on to the beyond we should have already gone to,” Kordieh answered. Under their combined stares, it took more courage to speak than they could yet appreciate.
Hale restrained the obvious comment that it was insane. How hadn’t anyone seen it before this? “And what do you say now for yourself?” she sighed.
“I have committed sabotage, treason, and murder. I do not yet know how I can pay for these things, but I must, and I will.”
“Among Humans, those crimes hold death or death of personality. Among the Minbari, there is no call for death, but the sentence can be as bad, for all that.” Hale paused with importance. “Among the Anla’shok…. I have never seen any record of it being necessary.”
“I have been reading the records. I do not think this has ever happened before,” Kordieh agreed. “As for personality, mine is already dead. If it could have ever been called a personality at all.”
Darquin groaned wearily. “Oh, spare me. That’s the least of your problems. If you so much as blink funny, someone’s going to burn you right down to the ground. Just worry about keeping your nose clean.”
Kordieh half turned to look at the Chief. “I know. It’s already been tried.”
Hale’s eyes narrowed. “What?”
“I — you know that when I was brought to Medlab, I was catatonic.”
Hale nodded curtly, while Darquin looked blatantly skeptical as he said, “So it seems.”
Kordieh’s words began to slow, drawing out of a time that was too fresh, too raw for perfect clarity. “When … Chief Santiago learned that I was still alive, she came to Medlab … to kill me. She entered my mind, to speak with me first.”
Hale’s eyes widened, then flickered to Darquin’s. She found confirmation there, as he sighed and nodded. Her lips thinned to a white line. “She was stopped then?”
Darquin nodded again. “Morgan was able to bring Kim in to help Katia out.”
“What, is this insanity infectious?” Hale muttered under her breath.
“Ka — Chief Santiago should not be blamed. She was only doing what so many others still wish to do,” Kordieh said, only to be ignored as Darquin spoke up.
“We’re rather lucky it’s only happened once. Still trying to get all the security details back in order,” Darquin said to Hale.
Hale nodded then her focus returns to Kordieh. “It’s entirely possible the whole ship wants you dead, but there’s a difference between wishing to do something and acting upon it,” Hale said sharply. “But I’ll deal with her later.”
Kordieh inclined his head in acceptance, but still added, “Please… remember that she did bring me back to consciousness.”
Darquin struggled really hard to be tight-lipped. Hale shared a glance and neither commented directly. Instead, Hale said, “I begin to wonder if some are forgetting.” For the first time, they saw what she held in her hands behind the desk. It was a scroll case of carved and hardened fibers. The etched surface still seemed to gleam despite its battered appearance. She tapped it’s scratched shell. “Do you know what this is?”
“It looks like a Minbari scroll-case, such as we saw during training,” Kordieh identified hesitantly.
“It is. This one, in particular holds Valen’s words on the Anla’shok. One of our most sacred writings, you might say. I’m not usually given to symbolism, but it’s ironic I had to unearth it from all this rubble.”
Kordieh lowered his eyes, thinking of his experience with Katia, in the ruins of his mind. “I told Anla’shok Matsumoto and Santiago … all that I had known is gone. All that remains are the Anla’shok.”
“But do they remain for you?” An edge of weariness was emerging in Hale’s quiet words. “That is what I have to decide.”
“One thing I have realized, first knowing and then now, seeing all I have done.”
“And that is…?”
“Death would be easy. If you truly wish to punish me, let me live.”
Darquin sighed, shaking his head. “It’s not just a matter of punishment, Kordieh. It’s a matter of safety. If you pose too much of a danger to the rest of us, that’ll settle it.”
Hale nodded. Darquin had given sudden definition to her jumbled thoughts. “Those in Medlab may say something else, but I’m far too old and seen too much to buy miraculous restorations. What’s to say it’s of any use to let you live?”
“It would be pointless for me to tell you that I wish no harm to anyone,” Kordieh said. “If you speak to Matsumoto, or Santiago, they will tell you what they found inside my mind. As for being of any use … I wish to live only so that I may serve the Anla’shok, to do something to make up for what I have done.”
“You can’t bring back the dead,” Hale said flatly. With a glance to Darquin, she nodded to the far side of the room by the viewport. She stood and walked there herself.
Kordieh’s voice finally broke. “I know. And — we can’t turn back time.” Hale didn’t answer, leaving Kordieh to stand alone in more ways than one. Darquin moved over, keeping Kordieh in view.
In a low voice that would only be caught as an unintelligible murmur to Kordieh, Hale asked, “Your opinion?”
At a similar volume, Darquin replied, “I had every intention from the start of keeping him in the brig. Barebone privileges and constant armed guard. Maybe Kim or Katia can give us some useful info later, but as it is, we have to assume he’s got one more bomb that we haven’t found yet. For all we know, he’s working for Clark.”
“I know. A thousand years of our history, and I’ve the joy of setting a precedent,” Hale muttered. “I agree, keep him in the brig as you say. It’s after that, that bothers me.”
“Hopefully things have settled down on Minbar enough that we’ll get some clear orders, or support, or something on this.”
“It’s pretty pathetic when the easiest thing to do would be to push him out the nearest airlock.” Hale frowned out at the stars. “But I don’t want — can’t — take the easy way. I can’t give a sentence of death.” She wasn’t sure if it was a weakness or a learned virtue. She looked back at Kordieh.
Standing still, his hands clutched around his databook, he was staring at some point on the floor. Hale could only wonder at his thoughts. “He wishes to repair what he’s done. Perhaps…”
Hale touched Darquin’s shoulder briefly, motioning him back to Kordieh and returned herself to the desk. Pike drumming the way, Darquin headed back to where he was standing before.
Hale looked at Kordieh squarely. “You are no longer Anla’shok.”
Kordieh stood straight, attempting to meet her gaze with the dignity befitting one of the Order he had just been cast out of.
“But you are still in debt. I withhold a final sentence until such time as one can be properly found,” Hale said. “Until then you will be returned to Minbar where you will aid in the rebuilding, pending final judgment. Will you submit to this?”
“With all my heart.”
Hale nodded, picked up the scrolls and after a thought, held them out. “And take these. Study them, and perhaps this time they won’t be lost.”
Kordieh took the scrolls gently, almost reverently. “I will. Thank you, Captain…. I know I have no right, but may I make one request?”
“What is it?” Hale asked.
“My Isil’zha…. will you give it to Anla’shok Santiago? To hold for me…. for the day I earn the right to reclaim it?” Kordieh asked humbly.
Hale considered the downcast man for a long moment then slowly nodded. After everything, she held no need to indulge cruelty. The anger she was barely able to see past, that still held her voice in clipped tones, would take longer to purge. “Very well, I will.”
“Thank you,” Kordieh said quietly.
Hale nodded. “You can take him back to the brig now,” she instructed Darquin. Darquin tapped his link to signal to the guards outside, and showed Kordieh to the door.
It was the sound of excitement that drew Hale out a moment later into the bridge.
It took several seconds for her to comprehend the message that Yoshino gave her; the expression on her face – laden with grief and dread – was in total contrast to her words.
“Captain, we have received a message from the White Star 46. They were dispatched to look for us. They will rendezvous with us in two hours and assist the ship back to Minbar.”
Copyright (C) 1998 Jamie Lawson, Joe R. Medina and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.