Characters: G’fen, Tomás Darquin, Ayeshalan
Cloudbanks of burning orange plasma expanded in G’fen’s canopy as his opponent vanished from his targeting screen. “Computer, how many Centauri fighters remain?”
The computer responded, “One enemy fighter remains.”
G’fen had sweat running down his extra-red Narn face. “And now to send this Centauri straight to–”
His eyes widened as he heard the computer register a weapons lock, looking all around for the enemy. His canopy shook, rattling every bone in his body, before it burned white all around him. G’fen’s fighter then burst into flames….
And the Narn fell out of the flight simulator.
The computer needlessly informed G’fen, “Your fighter has been destroyed.”
When G’fen picked himself off the floor, he gave off many unhappy remarks. “Shabla’ka’na! Darquin!”
“What?” Darquin was already scrambling out of the other simulator, shocked. The angry expression on G’fen’s face was something Darquin had never seen before. “What? I told ya to strap in.” He added with a wink. “And leave my father’s pouch outta this. Next time, jink more, that’s all.”
“Shobla…oh never mind! How in the name of G’Quan did you sneak up on me like that?”
“Came in just under your six instead of into it,” Darquin said. “Braked, did a hairpin z-tilt, and let the flight computer take over as I went up into a high-g scissor right at you. The Centauri do that in case they black out, so they can still track a target.”
G’fen was still having a hard time cooling off. “Well, this is only a simulation. I wouldn’t have been blown away in a real attack on the Phoenix.”
Darquin’s tone was suddenly sharp. “Why the hell not? If it was me in your seat, I sure would’ve–” He stopped himself and took a deep breath. “We can’t make that assumption. Not out there. If you relax too much, they’re all over you. That’s how it goes.”
Wheels seemed to turn inside G’fen’s steaming head. “Chief Darquin, you Na’groto!! You programmed my fighter to fail, didn’t you?”
“Don’t gimme that shrock! Since when are you invincible? If you were such hot–” Darquin blinked and slumped against the nearest simulator pod. “Jeez. I wish I rigged it in the first place. Damn high-g burns….”
G’fen gave a short chuckle. “Hey, I’m sorry Chief. I just lost my head back there. Let’s go take a break.” The two walked to a pair of chairs, and sat down.
Relieved, Darquin tried to nod and instantly stopped. After a deep inhale, he got up and shambled into the chair next to G’fen.
Once he got there, he started to laugh himself. “Now I know what it was like for my instructors.”
G’fen laughed. “Yeah, I can only imagine. Umm … Chief? Will I get a piece of the action when we start taking out the Centauri?”
He stopped a moment. “I don’t know. If Storm or Desell are short on pilots, maybe. Our first encounter is bound to be in space, but our job will be to keep everything on board secure.”
“Yeah, but we need to keep Narn space safe from any Centauri…” G’fen was very intent on killing some Centauri soon.
“Easy, bro, stand down!” He shielded himself with his hands. “Look, we don’t always get to pick assignments. And we’re out here to save lives, not to splash every loser in range. Centauri lives as well as Narn lives.”
“Hold on there Chief … Centauri and Narn are never in the same comparison.” G’fen became deeply offended.
“G’fen, life is life,” Darquin said. “That’s what we stand for. You don’t have to believe, but that’s the job.”
Before G’fen could protest again, Darquin waved him over. “Listen,” Darquin said gently. “I was in the Earth-Minbari War. I still feel…uncomfortable around warrior caste Minbari. It’s hard to let go. But if we don’t, nobody will.”
G’fen mumbled, and then said, “Well, you and the Minbari are a different case…”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.” Sighing, Darquin leaned back into his chair. “Look, you heard of the ISA’s Declaration of Principles, right?”
“Yes … written by the the best of us. G’kar.” G’fen was very proud of his mentor.
“Amen.” He stopped a moment, thinking twice about bringing this up. “And he has plenty of reasons to hate the Centauri. But he can still write…something like that.”
G’fen seemed a little angered by the statement. “G’kar wrote in his first chapters how the Centauri can never be trusted. And he is quite right.”
Behind them, the door of the simulator room had opened, to admit the Minbari Ayeshalan. “Forgive the intrusion,” she said. “I seem to have stepped into a rather … interesting … philosophical discussion.”
Darquin gave Ayeshelan a feeble grin. The sound of another person brought his hopes up. He was never good with words, or anything that seemed bigger than himself, philosophy included. Having someone with him in the trenches, tackling the same problem, often set his mind at ease. But considering what he had said about the warrior caste….
For a moment he didn’t dare breathe. How long had she been listening … and did she hear it through the door?
“Yeah,” he said at last. “Yeah, I guess it is.” He summoned up some courage. That was what Rangers were supposed to do, after all. “Maybe you can help prove a point.”
He took a deep breath. “I don’t know where you stood on things back then … but about 10 standard years ago, it probably would’ve been both our jobs to kill each other.” He nibbled his lower lip. “Right?”
“In those days,” Ayeshalan said, “it was not only my job, but my sacred duty, to remove your people from the face of the galaxy.” She spoke with practically no emotion, a voice recounting facts as one might read off a shopping list. “All humans, yes.”
Darquin nodded, weary from the weight of memories. “I was barely 17 when I got sent out. I fought like hell just to make it back alive. But it felt so pointless. By the end, a good chunk of me was already dead.” A dull chill ran through his voice. “Along with a lot of good people. And they didn’t do anything wrong.”
His fingers brushed the Isil’zha at his chest. “If you had told me then, I’d be fighting right next to Minbari, learning from them, wearing their clothes….” He shrugged. His wry smile returned, perhaps showing a little wear. “But here we are.”
Ayeshalan’s single eye glistened, it and her voice expressing her own griefs. “If you had told me then, that I would be living and working among the very humans I had tried so hard to destroy — that I would have taken one of them into my clan, to stand with me in the place of the very husband who I watched die at that place you call the Line — no, I would have never believed you.”
She looked from him to the Narn and back again. “Is this part of the point you wished to make?”
G’fen wasn’t impressed by what he witnessed. “But still, neither of you are the Centauri.”
Ayeshalan’s eye narrowed slightly as she turned toward G’fen. “No,” she said. “We are not. We are better than the Centauri.” She paused a moment, and stared into his eyes. “Are you?”
G’fen barely heard Darquin. He was far too engulfed in rage toward Ayeshalan. “What did you say?” G’fen said in a menacing tone.
“I said,” Ayeshalan replied, quite unfazed, “We are better than the Centauri. Are you?”
“You dirty she’nok!”
G’fen pulled his fighting pike from his side and extended it. Darquin reached for his PPG and quickly stayed his hand.
Ayeshalan’s eye widened, and her hand moved toward the denn’bok at her belt, but did not touch it. “Anla’shok G’fen,” she said quietly. “I suggest you calm yourself.”
“Anla’shok Ayeshalan,” G’fen started out mockingly, but then became enraged again, “you have insulted my race on the HIGHEST LEVEL!” G’fen did not stand down, or calm in any way.
“How have I insulted your race, G’fen?” she asked, her tone simple and straightforward.
Darquin opened his mouth to speak.
“You question US, being better than the Centauri!”
Ayeshalan still did not move. “You are saying that to even question whether the Narn are better than the Centauri is the gravest possible insult?” She sounded almost bewildered. “The thing of it is –” and then she cut herself off with a sigh. “Never mind. Our enemies are out there, not here. And I have no wish to see you sent away from the Anla’shok and into the brig, G’fen.”
“Who says I’d be kicked out? It’s your fault!”
“G’fen!” Darquin glared, holding his voice as best as he could to a civil volume. “A: You have a history of excessive force on Centauri citizens. B: The Ranger Council dragged their collective feet to assign you anywhere. C: The only reason you’re on the Phoenix now is because enough people pushed you through.
“And in case you need another reason to straighten up,” he added, “how’s this: It’s a safe bet the Council’s testing us–AND YOU–waiting for one of us to screw up. If that happens…chances are they’ll never let Narns join the Rangers again.”
Then a light went on in his eyes. “And who’d be thrilled the most to see that?” He spread his hands over his head like a peacock unveiling its tailfeathers. “Three guesses–”
G’fen stormed out of the room.
“Best three out of four?” Darquin swore under his breath, throwing his hands up in defeat.
Ayeshalan looked at Darquin. “Please accept my apologies,” she said.
Darquin shook his head. “This was bound to come up, I guess. I’ll talk to him later, when he’s cooled down enough.” Sighing, he leaned against the simulators. “That should take a standard year. For once, I’m glad Dr Mira isn’t with us.”
Ayeshalan nodded. “The irony is, he misunderstood me. When I said, ‘we are better than the Centauri,’ I was referring to you and I. And when I said ‘you,’ I was referring to him, as an individual. I was about to correct him when I realized it wasn’t going to make any difference — except to perhaps make him attack me.”
“There’s no telling,” he said with a snort. “He was looking for a fight from the get-go. I should be apologizing to you. I’m his CO. Instead of clamping him down tight, I tried to….” He frowned and wiggled his fingers. “To be all knowing and wise. Stupid.”
“You tried to get him to an understanding he’s not ready for. No shame in that,” Ayeshalan said with a smile. “We Minbari have a saying: ‘Understanding is not necessary, only obedience.’ I wish you luck in getting that much from him.”
“Sure, my fun meter’s pegged already.” He gave up on his grin and shook his head again, at himself. “Sorry about bringing up the war. I don’t, normally.”
“Nor do I. I have come to believe it was a great folly, best left behind us. Though I do regret all that you lost.” She spoke a phrase in Minbari, “In the voice of our lamentation, we who are different have become the same.”
Darquin nodded, vague as if in a dream. He wore a short-lived grin as memory struck him, this time with a bittersweet irony. “We’re one…but we’re not the same.”
“I do not understand,” she said after a moment’s pondering. “Is this a private reference?”
He shrugged. “An old one…a song. I can upload it to you later.”
After walking around the ship for an hour, G’fen went to his quarters. He sat down in a chair, and began to speak.
“Personal log, today’s confrontation with with Ranger Aysehalan, angered me almost to the point of Shan’kar. That self-righteous Minbari scum. Saying that their pathetic race is better than the Centauri, but questions if we are. I have not fought in anger since I left Babylon 5, and that damned Minbari almost destroyed it all. If she thinks that this is over….she’s dead wrong.”
G’fen turned off his log, climbed into bed, and went to sleep.
Too late Tonight To drag the past out into the light We're one, but we're not the same We get to Carry each other Carry each other One.... – U2, "One"
Phoenix–“Not The Same” © 2002 Jamie Lawson, Nick Wistner, Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2002 Warner Bros.