Yoshino followed her shipmates out of the Anla’shok Council chambers, into the alcove. All the while, the tiny chimes in her hair ornaments made a clashing, almost angry sound. “I thought we had left madness behind us,” she said.
“I don’t believe this,” Darquin said, grumbling.
“I do,” Morgan said. “Beings are the same all over.”
“I know, but I’m still disappointed,” Kim said.
“I can understand where the motivation is coming from,” Yoshino said. “Centuries of tradition overturned in half a decade … there are those who must try to hang on to the old. But it hurts to be the one on the anvil.”
“Especially when they saw fit to make use of us during the war,” Kim said.
“As you said, begging for us. But like many wars, the one in charge look for others to do the work,” Morgan said.
“I’m not going through this again,” Darquin said. “It’s Earthforce and OCS in Japan all over again.”
“Ie.” Then Morgan looked around. “Is there a bar here?”
Kim let out a short, sharp laugh. “Wrong city. Wrong planet.”
“We might as well find a bottle and a rooftop,” Darquin said. “They’re halfway to kicking us off the planet anyway.”
“The best I can suggest is the Minbari equivalent to a teahouse,” Yoshino said. “In the middle of a garden, not far. It is very quiet.”
“We can fix that,” Darquin muttered.
“Might as well have some tea,” Kim said. “I can’t drink now anyway.”
Morgan snorted, but didn’t argue – there didn’t seem to be much choice.
Yoshino said softly, “This way.”
They walked out of the ISA complex, onto the awaiting road and followed Yoshino’s lead to the teahouse.
“The sudden rush to call us in makes sense now, doesn’t it? Too quick for us to do anything but grab our uniforms and think of the essentials,” Kim said.
The high hedges of the garden were enclosing them when Yoshino spoke again, her voice so low the others had to strain to hear. “I do not want to start an argument, but I honestly don’t think this was a setup from the start.”
“No, perhaps not,” Kim said, “but we made a handy target. Human, added to the list in a rush…”
“Sure,” Darquin said. “The Ranger Council–or somebody– just decided to make the most of it: putting us on presidential security detail, then practically tricking us into breaking some rule everyone else forgot. I’ll bet even Valen never heard about it.”
A passing Minbari glanced up at them, possibly at the mention of Valen. Darquin instantly softened his expression, then gave him a polite smile and nod before following the others into the teahouse.
They were hushed despite anger, by the quiet order of the place. An elderly female Minbari greeted them. As she bowed, they could clearly see the blocky bone crest, grown nearly to the crown of her head. “Greetings, Anla’shok,” she said. “How may I serve you?”
“A table for four, please, nil’shavrin,” Kim said.
The Minbari’s eyes brightened a little at the respectful title, and she bowed again. “This way, Anla’shok,” she said, and led them to a table at the back of the building, with four chairs around it. Only one or two of the other tables were occupied at all. “What may I bring for you?” she asked. “We have many warming beverages, including some human ones.”
A little surprised, Morgan asked, “Which ones?”
“A few varieties of coffee, and some of tea. Also chocolate.”
“It has been ages since I have had chocolate. That please, if you would.” As long as it had been, Kim was willing to take the chance that it might be horrible stuff.
“And me, to start with.” Morgan shrugged. “Almost the next best thing.”
“The green tea, if you please,” Yoshino said.
“Coffee?” Darquin said, ears perked up.
“Yes,” the Minbari said. “Soon we hope to have Minbari grown varieties … but for now, I have Columbian and Kona.”
“Columbian,” he said instantly. “Please.”
“Of course.” The Minbari bowed again and left.
“Haven’t had any real coffee in months,” Darquin said with a shrug. “Funny what you miss.”
“And having to pick and choose which you indulge.” Kim glanced around. “I wonder why this place is so quiet.”
“Perhaps it is busier nearer meal times,” Morgan said.
“Maybe it’s new,” Darquin said. “It seems like they’re interested in human customers. And we’re…fairly new.”
“It seems like it should be longer. That other life is so distant,” Kim said.
“Ie,” Morgan agreed.
Darquin sighed. “Just when I was getting used to it all….”
“I cannot imagine that Entil’zha will allow this foolishness to stand,” Yoshino said, her voice beginning to regain its normal volume. “Or the President, for that matter.”
“What a mess if this reaches the news.” Kim sat back and stretched her legs carefully under the table. “You all saw how many video drones were about recording the event.”
“A lot more than New Year’s,” Darquin nodded.
“Now that is something the ones who started all this will not want,” Yoshino said. “None but a very small cadre of Minbari would agree with them. Everyone else would take them for the fools they are.”
“Ie, if they have any clue about the situation at all,” Morgan said.
“They wouldn’t welcome the embarrassment, either.” Kim looked speculative for a moment, then shook her head. “It probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Darquin said, reluctant. “We all have connections to reporters and things. But still…”
“No way of knowing if it would just make it worse. And I still care about the reputation of the Anla’shok.”
The elderly Minbari returned just then, carrying a large tray. She placed large crystal mugs in front of each of them, then a lidded carafe in front of Yoshino, Darquin, and a larger one between Kim and Morgan. In the center of the table she placed cream, sugar, and a plate of greenish-colored flatbread.
“Wow…thank you. Quite a spread,” Darquin said.
“Thank you,” Kim murmured, Morgan echoing her.
“Enjoy your refreshment,” she said softly, and stepped quietly away.
Kim lifted the carafe of hot chocolate and poured for Meg and herself. Darquin started on the coffee right away, meditating on the steam and the aroma before taking his first sip. Morgan was just as quick to sample. “Mm. I think that would qualify as the ‘good stuff’.”
Yoshino took a piece of the flatbread and chewed quietly, waiting for the tea to cool. Kim used a little extra cream to cool her chocolate. The first sip did as much to improve her temper as did sitting quietly for a few moments.
Drinking carefully, blowing over his cup, Darquin sat back. “I wonder if this is where Sheridan is going to get his coffee from now on? It’s gotta be the first place around here that has stuff like this.”
“But then it would not be quiet anymore.”
“Perhaps not as quiet, anyway,” Yoshino said.
Kim came close to smiling. “It does tempt a person to keep secrets, doesn’t it?”
“This one,” Darquin said with enthusiasm, “yes.”
“The first round is on me.” Kim felt in no hurry to drink and rush out.
“I do not know if there is anything more we can do about our situation but wait,” Yoshino said. “At least the waiting is a bit pleasanter in a place like this.”
“Unless we can get an ‘in’ with the First Couple,” Darquin said. “I guess that’s what you call ’em….”
Morgan shook her head. “I don’t know what else.”
“They were probably up to their eyes with work even before this, but I’ll hope,” Kim said.
They were well into their second cups and considering a proper meal when one of their comms beeped, setting off a shuffle to check whose it was.
“Nice dance move,” Darquin grinned, checking his own link.
Morgan threw him a mock glare, as she looked at hers, then answered. “Shok-na li Morgan.” She listened, face turning from mild annoyance to bemusement. “Ie, that’s right…”
Kim exchanged glances with the others. It took a lot of control not to peek into Meg’s thoughts.
Yoshino tipped back the last of her tea, still trying to watch Morgan. Darquin tried to concentrate on his coffee. It could well be his last for several more years.
“Yes. I understand.” Morgan rang off, then drained her chocolate. “Government House. Quick as we can.”
Darquin gulped. “Back on detail?”
“Kannon, that was fast,” Yoshino murmured.
Kim looked uneasy. “I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.”
“No, our hearing request has gone through.”
The anger reappeared in Darquin’s voice. “They’ve made up their minds.”
Yoshino was already waving to the Minbari who had served them. “Any hint of which way it is going to go?” she asked Morgan.
Morgan shook her head. “But it’s on us now, to make our case.”
Kim finished the last of her drink and wiped her mouth with a napkin. “Let’s be done with it then.”
Yoshino handed her cred-chit to the Minbari, with a few murmured words. “Agreed.”
Darquin emptied his cup and pulled out his credit chit. “I have it,” Yoshino murmured to him. He simply nodded, gathering himself for the coming fight, steel in his eyes.
Morgan got up reluctantly, adjusted her uniform while Kim apologized to the hostess for their hasty departure, declaring the service was excellent.
“It has been a pleasure to serve you,” she replied. “I hope you will return soon.”
“If I have the opportunity, often,” Morgan said.
Kim stepped outside and breathed in the cool air, focusing herself while she waited for the others.
The four Rangers settled into their choices, giving little more than a smile or a nod to the occasional passerby. If they had, they might have recognized one of the Minbari in the teahouse. He was young, his appearance lean and plain, his manner unassuming, an acolyte assigned to the President’s retinue. The Ranger Council selected him, following instructions from the Entil’zha, because of his diligence and discretion. He knew when to be present and how to avoid being underfoot. So when the time came to prepare the new Alliance headquarters, he had already been vetted by security and trained for his duties.
His trip to the teahouse was part of those duties. Months in advance, Entil’zha Delenn had arranged certain creature comforts for her husband, President Sheridan. This teahouse, whose worker caste proprietors were already anticipating the needs of this new generation of Rangers in Tuzanor, suited her plans. So when the day came, freshly roasted Kona beans were prepared for the President’s first day in his new home. And the acolyte was there to collect a carafe of fresh coffee and take it back to the presidential suite.
What the Ranger Council didn’t expect, and what the Entil’zha already had, was this acolyte’s devotion to the Ranger order.
His physique wasn’t up to their muster.
But he had excellent hearing.
And so it came to pass that he heard the choice and bitter words of Human Rangers, the prophesied legacy of Valen, while gofering some coffee for the President of the Interstellar Alliance. The carafe was sealed, so the coffee aroma didn’t overwhelm the delicate sensibilities of passing Minbari. The acolyte had a knack for being invisible. Thus, when he re-entered the ISA headquarters, he bore news as well as coffee on a tray. All these divergent threads in the fabric of space and time were unsuspected, their workings neither seen nor heard long until he entered the the presidential suite.
But several minutes later, the President’s voice could be heard echoing in the newly founded halls of power.
“THEY DID WHAT?!”
ISA Phoenix–“The Conspiracy of Customs, Part 2” © 2007 Alida Saxon, Leslie Mcbride, Jamie Lawson, Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2007 Warner Bros.