Characters: Terry Hale, Jan Jardine, Dunstan Kordieh
“I feel like Rip Van Winkle.”
Terry offered the comment with a laugh, but it couldn’t quite cover the dismay as she gazed upon the buildings she passed in Tuzanor. By the tumbled buildings and cracked causeways, it truly was the City of Sorrows once more.
Out on deep patrol during the time of civil war, Terry had seen nothing and heard little of the times that had nearly torn the Minbari apart. It was also very different to hear about it then actually find herself walking amidst the damage. She could only imagine — and didn’t particularly want to know — what it was like when the fires still burned.
Even more than she suspected when she passed it down, Kordieh’s sentence to aid the rebuilding would not be a short or a light punishment.
Jan Jardine, who had been standing a short distance away from Terry, finally spoke. “And so … it begins. In the same place it all began.”
Terry looked back at the elderly Anla’shok. “Not doomed to an endless cycle, I hope.”
“If I were a Buddhist, that would go without saying.” After a moment, he added, “But like them, I like to think I’ll break it eventually. This is where it began for me.”
Terry watched him curiously as they began to walk. Others passed them briskly in pursuit of their duties, but for them this was a brief moment of calm between. “How so?” she asked.
“This is where I found the purpose that I’d been looking for all my life.”
“That’s a rare thing, anywhere.”
Jan chuckled. “I suppose so. All my life, I’ve known there was something ‘out there.’ Something that could destroy us all. So I joined Earthforce looking for it.”
Terry shook her head. She had never known destiny or any such driving force. “It was simply circumstances for me. How did you know?”
He shrugged honestly. Terry had quickly found he was not a man to gloss his words. “I don’t know,” he said. “After learning about them through the Anla’shok, I’ve begun to think maybe I was visited by a Vorlon in the cradle.” He laughed, calling up a crooked grin from the younger Ranger.
“Then I am thankful for my quiet path,” Terry said, “I would not be upset to be overlooked by that destiny.”
In a moment, Jan turned the question on Terry. “So what were those circumstances, that brought a park ranger out into space?”
She shrugged, but it was an evasive one for her part. It was too close to the surface now, something she had thought she’d put behind her. Until an alien machine demonstrated otherwise. “Nothing grand or of these times. I came across something I wasn’t supposed to, and people made sure I was punished.” She paused. “And after it blew over, there was nothing to go back to.”
“Someone once said, ‘One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.’ True, unless you happen to witness them all. Then, they are all tragedy,” Jan said quietly.
Terry nodded slowly. She remembered the battles, the taking of thousands of lives in a moment and remembered how the weight of those passing seconds had the strength to shatter souls. There were many who had only technically survived the war — any war. “Even now, even after having seen it, it’s sometimes hard to comprehend,” she said aloud, her words hushed. “It changes a person.”
“Yes,” Jan simply agreed. There was nothing more to be said, to that.
Terry shook herself clear of the moment, and changed the subject. “Where now for you?”
“On to Earth, beside you.” He looked around, seeing the transports in the distance. “One cycle began here. It will end there. One way or another.”
Terry nodded thoughtfully. She wasn’t allowing herself any great hopes just yet, but she couldn’t deny something was about to change. It charged the very air about them as they made their preparations. “How long has it been for you?” she asked. “Since you’ve been on Earth, I mean.”
Jan thought about it, ruffling his hair in a gesture of habit. “About five years, at least.”
“Yes. Went to say goodbye to the last of ’em.” For a moment, his age, and a little of what it meant to be old, showed in his eyes.
“Maybe… if we really do this, others will have that chance as well. To finally go home. I doubt some would have guessed it possible.” She spoke as if it were solely for others, but she wondered a little for herself, when she dared to be honest. Not all was gone, perhaps…
“It does seem like many of the Anla’shok were driftwood. Me, I got lucky. More like a compass needle.” Jan looked away for a moment, then back to Terry. “Looks like someone else wants to see you, and I need to check on my Aurora.” He clapped her briefly on the back. “Clear skies, Terry. See you back on Earth.”
Terry blinked, jostled out of thought, and she replied quickly to cover it. “Clear Skies… and good luck.”
Jan grinned and waved, as he passed a pair of Minbari Anla’shok, a tall, somber figure in black between them. Dunstan Kordieh.
Terry waved back automatically, then her arm fell as her eyes found Kordieh. There was no missing paths, and she mentally braced for it.
Kordieh approached a little closer, then paused, calling quietly out to her. “A moment of your time, Captain Hale?” He stood a bit straighter than before, and Terry could see in his eyes a trace of something — a purpose perhaps? — that had not been there before.
She took the last few feet and stopped before him. Her posture, her demeanor showed nothing but civility, but her words were few and clipped. “Yes?”
“I wanted to thank you again, for sending me here. And to return something that belongs to you, and the Phoenix.”
“What is there to return?” In between the words hung a second statement, the sharp edge of accusation. That can be returned, that is.
In reply, Kordieh offered the Minbari scroll case she had given days earlier. “Valen’s writings on the Anla’shok. I have found a lot in here. I don’t want to leave you or thePhoenix without his wisdom, and I can find another copy here.”
Terry shook her head in refusal. “Of course you could, but then so could we. Keep it.”
He tucked the case back under his arm with a small bow. “You honor me, Captain…. You are returning to Earth with the rest of the fleet, is that right?”
“Within the hour,” she replied. She wasn’t entirely sure why she was indulging him, and the irritable confusion of it sharpened her voice further.
He looked at the ground for a moment before speaking. “As before, it’s not my place, but perhaps… I could ask but one more favor?”
“It depends upon what you ask of course, but speak as you like.”
“If, by some chance, you are near the sea, perhaps you could put this there… on the waves…” He held out a single sheet of paper.
Terry frowned, but she accepted it, lifting it out of their shadows to read.
It contained a pencil drawing of a white rose. Below it was neatly inscribed in large letters: “For my brother, Lucius Matthew Kordieh; gone but never forgotten.” Then, below, in smaller letters, “And for the rest of my brethren.” Inscribed there were dozens of names — all the dead from the WS24, and the Phoenix.
It was the same list Terry saw in her sleep, the burden she carried as well. She was silent so long, it appeared she would refuse. There was anger there now, just below the surface and the cracks in her composure were beginning to show. “Will it change anything?” she asked, only a moment later realizing she had said it aloud.
“Only in my heart. To know that I’ve said goodbye, as best I can.”
At that moment, Terry had the chance to exercise the compassion they were all taught, and yet so easily got buried beneath grief or rage. Her position and years made it no easier for her over another. Her throat was tight with the conflict as she forced the words out, “I will do it. For them.”
Kordieh bowed his head at the sting of the words, intended or no. “As I did it, for them.” He straightened a little and bowed formally. “I’ve bothered you enough. Goodbye, Captain. And thank you again, for everything.”
He began to move away, escorts at his shoulders. Holding the paper at her side, arrested on the path, Terry watched him go until he vanished from sight, if not from mind.
Copyright (C) 1998 Alida Saxon and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.