Characters: Terry Hale
“Everything all right?”
Terry opened her eyes and pulled herself back to her surroundings with a guilty look about. Somewhere between one blink and the next, the vid channel had shifted programs and the sky was beginning to lighten towards dawn. Yet again Warren had woken up to find her absent and she’d fallen asleep on the couch in the middle of her tangled concerns.
Three times apparently was the charm, but it wasn’t for good luck. He sat down beside her, taking one of her hands between his own. Absently he rubbed warmth back into her fingers as he studied her face worriedly. “What is it? Nightmares…?”
It would have been nice to let him believe that. What lost her sleep was in fact four unanswered calls from her ship and the demands to make a decision pressing close. She would have to say something useful soon — she was just afraid of where it would go. Not because she didn’t know what to decide. It was trying to find a way to explain what her decision had turned out to be.
“Nothing’s wrong. I just wasn’t sleepy.” A smile pushed it’s way on to her face, cowardice taking command. “But I am a bit hungry. How does breakfast sound?”
“Perfect. You got it.” If he noticed the mask over her thoughts, his own was far more securely in place.
His call to work, and the excuse of a walk in the mountains finally brought Terry’s escape. But the neither the answers or the distraction she was hoping could be found on the slopes. It came instead from the near-comical location of her jacket pocket. A muffled chirp escaped, the sound building a vision of fancy; a trapped tin, toy bird. Until it squawked with an all too human voice.
“Hey! Get me out of here!”
Terry reluctantly grinned. Sidney Teucer, Captain of the White Star 42, delighted in behaving considerably less than his rank demanded, whenever possible. Sober, responsible Terry was one of his favorite targets since their first days in the Rangers.
Today, it was remotely activating her commpatch for a visit from the Little People.
Terry fished it out of her pocket, cupping the thin wafer of metal in her gloved hands. “And what will you do for your freedom?” She played along.
“A song, a dance? The answers to all your questions?” His voice took on a poor imitation of an Irish lilt.
Terry laughed, but it ended with a quiet sigh. “I wish. Well my friend, how are you this fine morning?”
“On the dark side, my dear. It is in the wee hours where I sit, but in all honesty, it sounds brighter here than where you are.”
“Honesty keen as a knife’s edge. But let it wait just a moment. How are you? Are you here on Earth?”
“Right here on Earth, and I’m doing just fine all things considered. So are the others, before you ask. We didn’t lose anyone else in the class this time, though Nissim was hurt quite badly. She’ll make it through. They shipped her back to Minbar just a few weeks ago to finish recovering.”
“The class” was not unlike its name. Back when the recruitment of humans to the Anla’shok were still few, no more than a handful each year, they gravitated to each other for support. A comforting reminder of where they came from, amidst alien, and not necessarily welcome surroundings. Through the years since, they kept track of one another. Their numbers were too often dwindling.
“Good,” Terry said. She adhered the combadge to her hand and her gaze returned to the valley. “A lot has been changing, hasn’t it?”
“Too much to take in in a few days,” he agreed.
“Yes, but some things have to be sorted out, none-the-less.”
Sidney’s voice was surprisingly sober when he finally prompted, “And?”
Terry didn’t bother pretending not to know what he was thinking about. “I’m not leaving.”
“Not… leaving Earth?”
“No. I’m not leaving the Anla’shok.”
Sidney’s breath slipped out slowly, a blizzard of electronic snow over the connection. “I admit, I was beginning to wonder. Word came around that… well, I wouldn’t blame you if you stayed, as much as I’m ready to say how much we’re all still needed. It’s a lot to walk away from, both ways.”
“I don’t want to walk away from anyone, Sidney. Them or my oaths,” she said sharply, then her voice dropped. “I don’t know how to find the in between. What could I possibly maintain from five days travel on the other side of a Jump?”
“And how could you be Anla’shok on Earth as it is now?”
“I know that. You’re not helping.”
“Dearie, if I knew how, I would in a heartbeat.” Sidney fell quiet a few moments, and Terry could see in her mind’s eye, him sitting there, scrubbing a hand through his thinning hair as if an idea only needed rubbing out. “At the risk of sounding like one of our venerable instructors, you’re know what’s got to be done. You better do it and make peace, or you’ll never be able to take another step forward.”
Easier said than done, as the line went. Terry saw the lights on at home when she returned, and through the window, Warren at work in the kitchen. Another meal, a perfect distraction from what was to come. It was tempting, but she pressed forward, opening the door.
Cold air gushed in after her and he looked up. His smile soon faded.
Terry nodded. She forced her steps to bring her across the threshold. Closing the door, she then walked over to the counter. She looked across at him, unconsciously memorizing the lines of his face. There wasn’t any way she could ease into the subject.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to say it, but why not just say it plain? I have to go. I can’t put it off any longer, Warren,” she said.
“Terry, no. You just got back.”
“Vacations have got to end some time.” So do dreams, she thought.
“If it’s about having something to do… What about the park service? They’d take you back.”
Terry swallowed, a tightness in her throat. This was going to be as hard as she imagined. “Being a Ranger isn’t just a job. And even if the park service did take me back, it’d be like a vacation, not work. I’m… well I’m too big for it now.”
She instantly realized it was the wrong thing to say, even if she meant it. His face flushed a muddy red, and then the color washed away, leaving him pale. “So you’re too big for us, too.”
“No! That’s not what I mean at all.”
“What do you mean, then?”
Terry leaned forward, palms pressed flat on the counter top. “I can’t make it go back to the way it was, no matter how much I might wish it. It isn’t the same any more, so we’ve got to find out what it is now.” It didn’t seem to be coming out right, but Terry took a deep breath and pressed herself to add, “If it’s apart, so be it.”
“‘Till death do us part’,” he quoted, the edge of his sarcasm cutting deep.
Terry exploded. “God dammit Warren, where the hell do you think I’ve been the last decade? Hanging out at a bar on Babylon 5, watching the universe go by? I have been through more than one war and enough deaths to last me the next twenty incarnations, and do you really expect me to be the same person? And here I come back, and we aren’t even married anymore! Never mind that until last week I was dead in the eyes of the law. You were nearly remarried, for heaven’s sake!”
Warren paled further. “I couldn’t have known. Is that why–”
Terry should have guessed his world was still defined by this place and it’s people. The rest of the universe didn’t have much meaning, if your own didn’t expand beyond a planet, or even a continent. It might as well be a vid fantasy. “No, it’s not why I’m leaving. I’m not angry at you, or disappointed.” She sighed and collapsed on one of the stools at the counter. “I’m trying to make a point, if you’d listen without making a war of it. I’m leaving because I’m a different person now, with a place and promises to keep. We could try to hold on to the pieces, but it’s not going to fit no matter how we try. Why destroy what’s been? We make something new for ourselves.”
“Then how? You’re going away.”
Terry scrubbed a hand over her eyes, wiping away the moisture that threatened to become tears. “To be honest, I don’t know. But I’m willing to try.”
Only silence greeted her, and the echos of hurt, confusion and anger filled the space, until it pushed Terry from her seat. Throat aching, she nodded once, and left. It wasn’t long before it was further than the room.
It really didn’t take very long to pack. A small bag of clothes she’d brought with her, her uniform, and now less a ring, which she left on the beside table. In all the ceremonies, and sacrifices, she’d never found it more difficult to give something of herself away. It didn’t feel like making peace, but she did it. Maybe she’d get it back — she didn’t slip away without leaving a note as to where she could be found — but it didn’t truly feel possible. Resignation would have to do.
(C) 1999 Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.