Little By Little
As he followed the foot traffic of Tuzanor’s streets, Darquin tried to ignore all the stares. Trading his Anla’shok uniform for his old leather jacket and a pair of faded jeans was an act of sacrilege or something. Folks in Tuzanor were still getting used to humans, let alone casual human attire. And while Tomás Darquin was no James Dean, Minbar needed all the rebels it could get.
Getting closer to the construction site, he pictured Kordieh in his mind, trying to get used to seeing that face without thinking of it as a threat. Kordieh nearly blew up the ship a year ago, but that was mental illness, not malice. By all accounts, he seemed better. He’d always been a wallflower, so that wasn’t unusual.
And his actions at the terrorist bombing raised a lot of awkward questions. Staging his own redemption was too obvious, his injuries too serious. Under scrutiny, the list of coincidences shortened. All that remained was a twisted sense of irony–in other words, business as usual.
One way or another, Darquin didn’t have to worry about sucking vacuum on the surface of Minbar. It wasn’t exactly a Christian thought, he knew.
This was an errand of mercy. Kordieh was better, a lot more than anyone expected, but Darquin didn’t expect anyone to like the news he had to deliver.
Darquin passed through the construction site at the temple, sighing to himself as he tried to shake off the gloom.
G’fen could see a human walking through the site he had never seen before. He approached him and said, “Greetings, can I help you with something, Mister…?”
He smiled as best he could and, pulling back the collar of his jacket, flashed the Isil’zha pinned to his T-shirt. “Darquin. Hiya.” He did his best imitation of a Narn greeting gesture, bringing his fists up to his chest. “I came down from the Phoenix.”
G’fen gave the gesture as well. “OH!!! Mr. Darquin, I’m sorry. I’ve heard so much about you from Dunstan. Would you like me to take you to him?”
“Nah, I can find him in a minute. I’m not exactly in a rush,” he said with an ironic grin.
G’fen got a nervous look on his face. “Um, I’ve been wanting to talk with you, Mr. Darquin. About the Phoenix.”
Darquin smirked. “It’s probably as bad as you heard.” He waved off his joke quickly. “Seriously though, call me Tom. What did you want to know?”
“Well, Mister–I mean Tom–I’ve been stuck here on Minbar for a long time. I guess the other Rangers are wary of letting me go on a mission. To be blunt, sir, I want to join the crew of the Phoenix!”
“The council’s playing hardball again.” He reached into his Anla’shok duster for a datapad. “What’s your name, friend?”
“G’fen, sir.” A worried look came over his mottled face.
Darquin tapped his security code into the datapad and opened a link into the local net. “G’fen, okay…” He stopped long enough to give him a pat on the shoulder. “Relax, I’ve been there. You should see my record–” He raised an eyebrow as he started reading. “Wow, maybe this is my record….”
“I’ve screwed up some. OK, a lot. But I’m good at Security. Check the files from Babylon 5. I was great!” Under his breath G’fen said, “Except the times I was reprimanded for assaulting Centauri.” In an audible tone, “Could you at least consider me?”
“Maybe we should go over a few things first,” he said slowly. “It’s going to be a rough ride. We’ll get into bigger scrapes than the rest of the fleet. You’re aware of that, right?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve been following the ship the best I can, but it’s hard to get information. I can be just as rough.”
Darquin nodded, keeping his poker face on. Still, he couldn’t have given a better answer himself. “So if you get hurt and, say, a Centauri medic is working on you….”
G’fen froze. He knew what he had to say in order to get in, even if it was the biggest lie he had ever told. “I would set back and let him do his job.” He hated himself for saying such a thing.
“It’d help. We got a Centauri CMO.” Darquin dropped his usually casual demeanor. “G’fen, listen. This is important. As the ISA brings in more people, one day we’ll get more Centauri.”
G’fen knew not to make any remark about more Centauri. But he would have said something to the effect of, “Oh, that’s all you need, more Centauri.” But he kept his manners.
“And more Narns.” Darquin grinned. “If we’re lucky.”
G’fen got an eager face from hearing the last remark. “Can I take that as a good sign!?”
He shrugged. “Depends on your idea of a good sign. I’ll pull down your records and go over ’em some more. At length,” he said with emphasis. “If I like what I see, I still have to run this by the XO, then the Captain. They might want a face-to-face with you. When that happens, you’ll be on your own. But I know what it’s like to be the odd man out, especially here,” he said softly, beaming with sympathy. “Where I can help you, I’ll sure try.”
“I thank you very much, Tom! Dunstan told me that you were very understanding, and he was very right. I don’t want to keep you, so I will take you to him now.”
“Thanks, G’fen.” Darquin looked around the site as the friendly Narn showed him the way. “Y’know, it’s been a while since I worked with a Narn. I never had much of a chance to really get to know ’em.”
G’fen considered, then said, “Well, we aren’t as bad as some people make us out to be.” They walked a little farther, and Dunstan was sighted. “There he is, busy as usual!”
“Okay.” He took a deep breath, steeling himself. “You might want to make yourself scarce for a few minutes,” he whispered to G’fen. “Really private.”
“Sure thing, Tom.” With that G’fen disappeared to another section of the work site.
Dunstan Kordieh was standing near a wall, carefully fitting a crystalline wall sconce into place. He looked pale and weak to Darquin’s eyes. It was not the gaunt and pale weakness he remembered from leaving Kordieh behind months ago, but rather, he guessed, the effect of his serious injuries.
“Kordieh?” Darquin called out. As soon as he got his attention, he quickly moved to help him with the crystal sconce. “Lemme get that. You doing okay?”
“Chief Darquin! Thank you …” He accepted Darquin’s assistance in getting the sconce into place. “I’m sorry. Still recovering, I guess.” He coughed, then pointed to the nearby steps. “Mind if I sit?”
“No, uh, good idea.” He gave him enough distance to move, ready to grab him if he slipped.
Despite his obvious weakness, Darquin couldn’t help but notice a relaxation, a self-assurance, about Kordieh that hadn’t been there before.
“For someone who’s just been put through the Medlab wringer, you seem to be doing pretty good. Centered, is how my old sensei would’ve said it.”
“It’s kind of you to say so. I had an experience a little while ago … It was a transformation.” He grinned wryly. “That sounds awfully presumptuous of me, but I don’t know how else to put it.”
“I understand, believe me. I think it’s going around.”
“So … the Phoenix has come back. I …” He seemed about to say one thing, then changed subject mid-sentence. “Have you come to walk the mah’uzeed then? As you can see, it’s very nearly done. Just decorative things left to do, really.”
“I’m still curious about it.” He held his breath for a moment. “But I got a message for you. I got pegged as the delivery boy.”
Kordieh closed his eyes and let his head droop for a moment. He opened them again and looked at Darquin, schooling his features to resolution. “I think I can guess who it’s from,” he said, his tone flat.
Darquin nodded. “Last I heard, she’s still in the Abbai system, tracking down the last of the missing children there. I…guess it’s her way of working through what the Psi-Corps did with her own kids.”
“She’s all right?”
“As far as I can tell. She’s gotten a bit more methodical about looking into things….” He sighed, disappointed with himself, ducking the issue with logistics and technical appraisals. “She’s really driven, more than I’ve ever seen her. And you know how she gets, I’ll bet. But this time, she’s not letting go.”
Kordieh tried to smile, but his lips started to wobble. He bit down on them. “She … just stopped writing. I guessed that if something had happened to her, I would have been told. I decided … she couldn’t deal with me any more. I guess … I ought to take comfort, that she’s doing something important. Something she needs to do.”
“Listen,” he said, quiet and commanding. “It wasn’t you. It was her. Her past, her feelings, they all caught up with her. She lost sight of everything else and took off on her own.”
Kordieh nodded slowly. “I guess it’ll just take a while for me to really understand. I … I never had … I’ve never been in this kind of a relationship before. Let alone lost it. All these feelings … it’s all new.”
“Wanna know a secret?” A rueful grin crept across his face. “It’s always new. Every single time. Nobody’s immune and nobody’s ready for it, no matter what. God help us, you just might be like everybody else.”
Kordieh tried to smile again. This time it stuck. “Thank you. I … I don’t suppose she gave you … anything of mine?”
Darquin nodded and pulled a small bundle of cloth out of his pocket. Unwrapping it, he revealed a Ranger pin, the emerald Isil’zha framed by two silver figures, one human, one Minbari.
“I asked her to keep it for me until I earned the right to reclaim it. May I … may I ask the same of you?”
“Y’sure you need me to?” Darquin held up the Isil’zha. “You swore to live for the One, right? And from what I heard, you nearly died for the One.”
“I did what I had to do,” he said, with a little shrug and another cough. “I wasn’t even thinking about anything else–just that I couldn’t bear seeing anyone else die if I could possibly stop it.”
Darquin offered the pin again and finally shrugged when Kordieh didn’t reach for it. “Okay.” Flicking his wrist, he sent the folds of cloth tumbling over the Isil’zha. “I’ll hold it for ya, if that’s what you really want.”
“Please. It’s in the council’s hands now. I hope they make their decision before you have to leave.”
Darquin pursed his lips. “We’ll see, I guess.”
“I just try not to hope too much.” He looked across the open space of the mah’uzeed, at the lone Narn tapping a heavy paving stone into the floor. “Have you met G’fen?” he asked.
“Yeah.” He smirked. “If he has his way, he’ll be taking off with us.”
“I told him he should talk to you. That if anyone in the Rangers would give him a chance, it’d be you. I hope it works out. He’s … I think he needs a little more self discipline sometimes, but he has a good heart.”
“Sounds like half the people on board. Including me!”
Kordieh grinned for a moment, letting it fade to a gentle smile. “I … thank you for telling me. About Katia.”
“I just didn’t want you to get stuck with a Dear Dunstan on the Stellarcom. I wouldn’t wish for that on anybody.”
“Thank you,” Kordieh said again. “If you would like to walk the mah’uzeed, I’m here by one hour after sunrise.”
“Yeah, all right.” He stood up and dusted himself off, chuckling. “If I’m lucky, I can find some coffee and donuts around here.”
“Good luck,” Kordieh said. “The Minbari can do wonderful things with green tea, but they just can’t get a handle on coffee, it seems.” He stood up, steadying himself against the steps.
“Hey, like I said,” he said with a wide smile, “if I’m lucky!”
“See you soon then, mon ami.”
Darquin nodded. “Later.”
G’fen noticed that Darquin had finished his conversation with Dunstan. Dunstan didn’t seem as happy as he was earlier.
G’fen approached. “Hello, Dunstan. Did you have a good meeting with Mr. Darquin?”
“As well as could be expected,” Dunstan answered. “I’m afraid he had to bring me some … rather unhappy news.”
G’fen became worried. He expected to hear bad news about his chances of joining the Phoenix. “Um…Is everything ok?”
Looking at G’fen’s crestfallen expression, Kordieh said, “Yes, yes it is. It was personal news for me, that’s all.”
“Well, I hope it all works out in the end!” replied G’fen.
Kordieh’s first thought was, That’s just it. It is the end.
But then he thought of the gleam of the Isil’zha, lying in Darquin’s palm. “Someone on my world once said, ‘It is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ Come on. If you’re going off to join the Phoenix, we have a lot of work to do.”
Phoenix–“Little By Little” © 2002 Jamie Lawson, Nick Wistner, Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2002 Warner Bros.