Limped On, Blood-Shod

Characters: Dunstan Kordieh, Sech Nelier, Tarenn

Sech Nelier turned off his vid terminal, feeling even older than he truly was. Does this violence never end? A section of underground transport tubes, only just rebuilt after the Minbari civil war, had been blown up in the city of Yedor. The new Martian Embassy was at the heart of the destruction, suggesting that it had been the target.

Sinking back into his chair, Nelier squashed his thoughts about the violent nature of humans. After all, his own kind had forsaken a thousand years of peace for an orgy of violence against one another less than two cycles ago. He sighed. It is all madness.

And then the terminal began to chirp, the urgent signal pattern. Nelier looked at it, his weary sorrow evaporating in a rush of alarm. It was the signal indicating that Dunstan Kordieh had failed to return on time from his leave.

Fingers racing across the crystalline tapestry of control panels, Nelier first locked in on the signal from Kordieh’s tracer. Then he called up his notes on where the human had gone.

“Signal located. Coordinating against planetary GPS. Please stand by,” the computer told him.

Kordieh had traveled to Yedor, accompanied by a Minbari Anla’shok trainee named Tarenn, to talk to a temple architect. The work on the Anla’shok compound’s mah’uzeed had been progressing far more quickly than even Nelier thought it would, especially in the weeks since Kordieh had experienced the Day of the Dead. What could have possessed him to risk throwing all that away?

“Signal now fixed,” the computer announced. Nelier looked at the map now displayed for him, the signal from the tracer a bright glow at the center.

A hospital? Nelier’s eyes widened. He commanded the map to zoom out. “Sweet Valeria,” he murmured. The Sonol Hospital was located only a short distance from the scene of the disaster.

This can’t be, Nelier thought, forcing away the immediate conclusion. He tried to signal Tarenn, but there was no response. Her link was not functioning.

He activated another comm channel. “Shuttle field. Ready our fastest available craft and pilot for me. Immediately.”

His second call was no less terse. “Turval. We may have a situation with Kordieh. I’m going to Yedor.”

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
– Wilfred Owen, "Dulce Et Decorum Est"

Kordieh’s hospital bed was a splash of light in a pool of dimness. The human lay unconscious, surrounded by a bubble of energy holding in a pure oxygen atmosphere. Beside him, the young Minbari Tarenn sat in a chair, her splinted left leg stretched out in front of her. She struggled to rise as Nelier entered, but he waved her back to her seat.

“Forgive me, Master,” she said, her voice taut with pain. “I failed in my duty.”

He turned from the unconscious Kordieh to stare at her, the anger born of bewilderment which had been simmering for hours threatening now to spill over. “Explain yourself, Tarenn,” he said. As she caught her breath, he added more gently, “Tell me what happened.”

“We were in a public transport, returning to the shuttleport from Sech Vohal’s home,” she began. “It was crowded, being near midday. We were just entering a station when there was a great explosion in the transport shaft. Our car was half overturned. My leg was broken when another passenger fell on me. But Kordieh was not hurt, he said.”

“You’d been with him all the time?” Nelier asked.

“Yes, Master. I stayed with him just as you bid me. And he never tried to leave my sight … except for a few moments for private necessities.”

A great knot loosened within Nelier’s chest. He allowed himself a relieved sigh, then said, “Go on. What happened then?”

“Kordieh helped me out of the car and to the station platform. Even as we escaped the car, I could smell gas. The explosion had broken a coolant line which was leaking. I told him how toxic it was.

“He set me down on the platform and went back. I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t listen. He came back with a child in his arms, put her down next to me and went back again. He brought someone else out. I had gotten to my feet and tried to follow him, but he wouldn’t let me.

“Then I fell. He was already gone. A few minutes later, the rescue squad came. They found him at the door to the transport car, unconscious. They brought us both here.” A tear slid down Tarenn’s nose. “I failed, Master. You told me to watch him and keep him safe, but I’ve failed.”

“It’s all right, Tarenn,” Nelier said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You did all that you could. It is enough. There is no blame.”

A moment passed, until the silence was broken by a voice, rusted iron over gravel. Tarenn could barely hear it. “Sech … Nelier?”

Wide-eyed, the Minbari turned toward the bed. Dunstan Kordieh had awoken. Tarenn could see the human struggling to focus on his teacher with nearly-blinded eyes. “Kordieh?” he said softly, leaning close. “Why?”

Tarenn could not make out the words of the answer, though she could tell that each one came with great effort, a battle so intense she thought she might begin to cry again.

But she could hear what Nelier said next, though perhaps she was not meant to. “Into fire, into storm, into darkness, into death?” he murmured, as he watched Kordieh slip back into unconsciousness. Then he turned toward her. “What did the doctors say?” he asked. “Will he live?”

“They don’t know, Master,” she said. “They … they didn’t sound very hopeful.”

“The death of flesh, the death of pain, the death of yesterday,” Nelier whispered.

That — and what he spoke to Kordieh — the words of the rebirth ceremony. What does it mean? “Master?”

But Nelier said nothing more.

She looked at her teacher, gaze falling to the green and gold badge on his cloak. And then she understood. He is still one of us. After all that he did, Kordieh is a Ranger still.

Copyright (c) 2002 Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.


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