Two crystalline doors slid open onto darkness, admitting the humans to one of the Ranger Council’s chambers. The room seemed to be made of shadows, save for two spotlights on the floor. And empty, save for the two of them.
Darquin inched his way through the dark, into the nearest column of light, and looked around. For the first time in days, he was wearing his Ranger uniform. The reflections off the Isil’zha stone on the lapel of his grey duster burst out like a firestorm of emeralds. “I always wondered if I’d ever end up here.”
Into the other circle of light stepped another Ranger, a woman.
“Cap?” He blinked as he recognized her.
Terry Hale didn’t have the appearance of one who’d come to judge or investigate. Her gaze was frankly curious as she looked into the dark spaces beyond – or at least tried to. “None other. I see you’re as puzzled as I am.”
A third spotlight blinked into life, and almost immediately a female Minbari, in the robes of the council, stepped into it. “Shok’na Hale. Chief Darquin. Good day to you. I am Nesaan, with word from the Anla’shok Council.”
Darquin steepled his thumbs and lay his fingers flat over his hands for proper Minbari greetings. “Good morning, thank you for this audience…though I’m not sure why.”
Terry echoed the gesture of greeting, adding, “I hope we may be of service, regardless.”
“Indeed you may. As you of course know, the Sorna’silat is very nearly ready to return to service. No doubt you are already gathering your crew.”
Terry nodded. “Maintenance and upgrades proceed on schedule. We expect to leave dock within nine solar days.”
“Very good. We wish to request one more member to your crew. Under the circumstances, it seemed appropriate to have your Chief of Security present as well.”
Darquin glanced at Captain Hale before appraising the Councillor anew.
“How so?” Terry asked cautiously.
“This individual has been dangerous in the past. While his recent actions demonstrate a commitment to the ideals of the Anla’shok, it would be foolish to ignore his past actions completely.”
“Correct. We propose that he return to the Sorna’silat, with the status of a trainee, in the medical section.”
Terry somehow remained where she was. It would have been damaging to her standing to pace the room or protest overmuch. Her response was carefully neutral. “I imagine it’s already been discussed that he would be entering into an environment that may very well be hostile to him.”
“To say the least,” Darquin said.
“Indeed it has,” said Nesaan. “We envision this as a test. Perhaps the greatest test he could be asked to undergo.”
“I expect it will also be a test of those who lost friends in his acts of madness.”
“Most perceptive, Shok’na Hale. Yes. It will be a time to remember that one of our ideals is compassion.”
“A question?” Darquin said cautiously. “Is Kordieh really up to it? I mean, even he’s not sure.”
Terry glanced sidelong at Darquin. He gave the Captain a sheepish grin. “I’ve been trying to keep an eye on him, just in case.”
“He wishes to serve,” Nesaan answered. “He has made it clear. And his teachers see in him something which, perhaps, he does not yet see…and might never see unless he is truly tested.” The Councillor paused, tilting her head to one side as if listening. “You may, if you wish, question him directly.”
“I feel I would have to see and speak to him before I agree to this,” Terry said.
“Have you other questions for us, before I send him in?”
Darquin looked over his shoulder, searching the darkness. “I did, but…not about Kordieh.”
“When…” He wet his lips and inhaled quickly. “…when will we see more Rangers from the rest of the Alliance?”
She smiled. “Soon, we hope. The door is open. Worthy candidates come through but slowly. We have one Brakiri who is just completing his training cycle. And several of the Pak’ma’ra, who are being trained for courier service.”
“Thank you. Sorry to interrupt.”
Terry watched him bow his head, an apparently humble posture, but from her place she was able to see those averted eyes. And if she caught the skepticism in the look he cast aside, she didn’t say anything.
Nesaan was perfectly composed. “Then we will leave you to your interview. Please notify us of your decision, Shok’na Hale.” The Councillor bowed, and her spotlight blinked out.
Several moments passed in silence, then a different light winked on. Slowly, but without hesitation, Dunstan Kordieh stepped into it and bowed in greeting.
Terry turned her attention immediately to him, studying his appearance, the way he looked at them, seeking anything that might prove he was sane now… or not.
He stood straight, his tall frame still thin but no longer gaunt. His face was tanned, and his eyes, when they met hers, were clear and open. He wore brown coveralls, simple Minbari worker caste attire.
“Heya.” Darquin tried to sound casual.
Kordieh’s smile was only slightly hesitant. “Chief Darquin. Good to see you.”
At a loss on just how to greet him, Terry focused on what she saw. “You appear improved since last I saw you.”
“Thank you. I’ve been working very hard at it, Captain. And perhaps had some luck as well.”
“I expect you know that the Council wishes you to return to the Phoenix. How do you feel about that?”
“A…little worried, to be honest. But I really want to try.”
“Kordieh,” Darquin said. “I went to the site where you were building the mahu’zeed, to deliver a message. You said you weren’t ready to come back to the Rangers then. What changed your mind?”
“I wanted to, even then. But to take back the Isil’zha, to insist that I had the right to return, would have been disrespectful to the Council, and those who dismissed me from the Rangers in the first place. I hadn’t the right, not until the Council agreed that I did.”
Darquin nodded, thinking it over, as he turned to Captain Hale. “Your turn at bat.”
“The Council’s faith isn’t absolute,” Terry began. “They see this as a test for you. A test for us all, to see if we have gotten past what happened. Do you understand the danger you may be in? The danger some will see in you?”
“I understand, Captain. I do not want to cause disruption. But I’m willing to place myself at risk, if you are willing to have me.”
Terry looked over at Darquin then. “Are you willing to deal with this extra responsibility in security?”
He held up a data crystal. “Already on it.”
Terry was silent for several moments, thinking, before she looked at Kordieh again. “You will return to the Phoenix–under the condition that you will turn yourself in to Darquin if you feel you cannot handle the situation.”
“Gladly, Captain. Thank you.” He took a deep breath, to slow himself down. “When does the ship depart?”
“Within the next nine days. All crew members will get a last call.”
He nodded. “I’ll be ready.”
Darquin stepped out of his spotlight and approached her, whispering. “Sir, maybe we can schedule his boarding with the last batch of personnel? To keep a better eye on him. And if you want, we can go over the info I’ve got on him so far.”
Terry nodded immediately. “That would be best. I’d already intended to call a senior staff meeting first thing after boarding,” she returned quietly. “While I did say ‘yes’, I’m not about to put anybody’s life at risk over a spiritual test.”
“Funny, I thought that’s what they were asking for.” Darquin slipped back into his spotlight.
“You can go, Kordieh. You’ll be called when it’s time to depart,” Terry said.
“Thank you, Captain.” He bowed to her, his hands folded in the Minbari fashion of thanks and greetings, then to Darquin, then turned to leave.
After a moment a light revealed the way out. Terry let out a quiet sigh, looking around, then at Darquin. “All right, this is what we have to work with. ”
“Okay.” He flicked the data crystal up into the air, sending splinters of light all around, and snatched it back. “So we’re expecting company.”
“And lively conversation. I can’t wait until the staff meeting,” Terry said wryly.
“I can,” he sighed.
“Do what you can, talk to who you have to, and if it looks like it’s going to fail, talk to me immediately. What else is there to be done?”
“I think I can get a few people to watch him when he’s on duty. I’ve already looked into securing key sections of the ship.”
“Good.” Terry gave the room a last look, then started for the door she was brought in. “Keep me informed and consider any reasonable request approved.”
He nodded as he followed. “I’ll keep Morgan updated. Lord knows what she’s gonna say.”
“Expect to learn a few choice words in Welsh.”
Phoenix–“Scornful Thoughts Fly Your Way” © 2002 Alida Saxon, Jamie Lawson, Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2002 Warner Bros.