Characters: Terry Hale
“Good evening, Councilor. Shall I see you home?”
Councilor Matsya smiled. “Do you wait for me now, Anla’shok Hale? We have had this conversation often of late.”
“You know my opinion of this. I don’t give up easily.”
Apparently, neither did the Councilor. Once again, she refused. “Thank you, but I am quite safe. Though, I would enjoy walking the way with you until we must part.”
The Abbai was not a fighter, nor possessed the appearance of one. A seat on the council wouldn’t impress the predators, if she even had the chance to declare her importance. And a dead person couldn’t be of much use to the council or the people. Terry looked at her a moment longer and suppressed a sigh. She rose from the bench and joined Matsya on the council hall steps.
“I would enjoy your company, Councilor,” Terry said, and assigned herself to another night of being the woman’s shadow.
They walked in silence for a time. There was little to say. The hours of plans and debates that went on during the day exhausted any use in further discussion. Neither were very interested to share more than tidbits from their past. Even nonsense seemed intrusive, when Matsya studied the damaged buildings they passed with a private intensity that didn’t invite interruption. The fuel, Terry guessed, to propel Matsya through another day.
“Did you find the Brakiri presentation interesting, Anla’shok Hale?”
Terry frowned, puzzled by the sudden question. She looked to where the councilor’s eyes fell on an abandoned shop. Hanging from hook in the porch rafters was a paper-mache comet, with golden streamers for the tail. The Brakiri ambassador had brought a similar one to council, among other things. She had all but forgotten about it, tucked in amidst the other topics of the day. “Oh, yes, it was. Surprising similarities between their ceremony and some human cultural practices.”
“He made it sound far more than a ceremony, at least for this time.” Matsya turned to look at Terry. “Do you believe the dead could return to us for a night?”
Terry considered it a moment before answering. “It seems unlikely, but then so are a lot of things.” Time travel, for one, she thought.
“Unlikely, yes,” Matsya said quickly. She appeared uncomfortable now, that she’d brought it up. She hugged the documents in her ams closer to her breast, like a shield. “No harm I suppose, and the money for these temporary purchases aren’t unwelcome. If that means we rebuild another day sooner for it, then…”
A cry from somewhere in the next street cut off Matsya’s speech. They both took a step to seek it out, when someone spoke to them from behind.
“Would you like a little company on the path?”
Terry swung about, dropping her diplomatic packet in favor of weapons. She new they had had the street to themselves for nearly a kilometer, and now this voice was no more than a meter away. She almost dropped her pike as well, when she saw who it originated from.
Anla’shok Saraden, white star commander and one of the many dead from the final battle, stepped closer, stooped down and picked up the packet Terry had dropped. Within arms reach, the Minbari appeared to be whole, healthy and breathing. All things she had not been, the last time Terry had seen her. An unfamiliar Abbai male stood beside Saraden, but just then it was hardly of any importance.
“You’re dead. I pulled your body from the debris myself.–”
“It is improbable, but not impossible. What the universe is capable of, isn’t defined solely by our experiences.”
“What is this?”
“You already know. The Day of the Dead.”
Beside Terry, Matsya made a low choked sound. Her precious documents slid from her fingers, fluttering against their legs and papering the street. A moment later she collapsed to the ground with them. Before Terry could move to help, Saraden grasped her arm, stopping her.
“There is someone else to take care of her. Come with me, Terry.”
Like her grip, Saraden’s strength was real. It kept Terry moving down the road, until she quit resisting. It continued to keep her on the right road, when she might have wandered anywhere.
As night deepened around them, it had not gotten quieter. People were crying out, the names of people mingling with gods. It was hard to tell if it was in joy or pain. “It sounds like we’re in Hell,” Terry said.
“Does it look like we are in Hell?”
“No. You would have looked like when… Day of the Dead, you say?” Terry shifted the subject, even if her thoughts weren’t so quick to catch up. An image rose in her mind. Saraden, crushed beneath a heap of debris, her elegant crown of bone cracked and seeping.
Saraden was too quick to miss Terry’s discomfort, but she addressed the question first. “A rare and fascinating event. When I had learned of it in my studies, and that it would happen within my generation, I hoped to have the opportunity to experience the Day of the Dead. ” Her smile was ironic. “Experiencing it from this side was unexpected.”
“I’m sorry Saraden. If there was anything I could have done….”
“There was nothing you could do for me, and I am sorry you do not believe that in your heart. It’s part of why I came.”
Terry looked at Saraden only reluctantly, when the silence and the Minbari’s gaze became too much to tolerate. “You know I can’t argue with you,” she said, a wry smile curling.
“But you could. I was not always right.” Saraden’s own smile was sad. “When you and other humans first came to be a part of the Anla’shok, I despised you and your people’s invasion. It was appropriate to make allies and to employ the other races in our duties, but you couldn’t possibly be one of Valen’s chosen. Especially not the people who brought our leader’s death!
“I was careful of my emotions, Terry. The decision had been made, and it was my duty to obey. I trained you and made you a part of us… and in so doing I realized my assumptions had been wrong. Humans showed a depth of courage and devotion that equaled our own. I only wish now that I had properly acted upon that new awareness.”
“Saraden, you did nothing wrong! You were an excellent leader to us–”
“I was an equal. I commanded a White Star, but it did not make me different. We are all Anla’shok, and we are all mortal. I had perhaps more experience, but I still fought with fear, doubt and anger as you do. I believed I could do better, but I was not burdened by the belief that I had failed to meet another’s standards, that I was less than what was needed. I am very sorry, Terry, to have been your burden.”
“I… you’re not disappointed.” Terry stopped in the middle of the road, her eyes wide. There was so much said, so much changed in her mind, it would take a while to process it all.
“I am not disappointed. I am in fact quite proud.” Saraden then took both Terry’s arms, and made their eyes meet. “You brought our ship through the war and survived. You have been so many places since, and survived. Now you and others work to bring peace. It is everything I hoped would continue after I was gone. It was worth dying for.”
Terry shuddered. It took a few moments before she could make something intelligible of her voice. “I still wish you were here. I’ve missed you.”
“I have missed you, too.”
Finally Terry stirred and looked around them. The building where she had her guest quarters were right in front of them, her window a couple stories up, facing the road. “Would you like to come inside? There’s still the rest of the night.”
Saraden smiled regretfully. “I would like to, but there is someone else there to see you now. I have done what I wanted to do.”
Saraden wouldn’t say who. “Before you go, there is something I hope you can do for me.”
“Of course,” Terry said immediately.
From under her long coat Saraden produced Terry’s dropped diplomatic packet and a small cloth covered box. She presented both to Terry. “It is for my family. When you can, please go to Minbar and give this to them. I hope it will help them. I wish I could go myself…”
“I will see to it that they get this. I promise.”
“Thank you.” It was Saraden’s turn to pause. After a moment she lifted her hand, and placed it on Terry’s breastbone. Terry felt suddenly as if she had stopped her heart with that contact. She lifted her hand to Saraden and mirrored her touch.
Saraden smiled, this time without sadness. “Goodbye, my friend.”
The moment stretched, then Saraden stepped back. She did not vanish. Rather she turned and walked away down the road, quiet watchful and incredibly real. Terry’s gaze never left her, until the city took her out of sight.
Copyright (c) 2001 Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.