Four Rangers, human by birth, disgraced and defiant, had been summoned to the chambers of the Ranger Council. Together, they walked. Bracing themselves for judgment, they entered an empty alcove and waited, expecting neither mercy nor reprieve.
“I never thought we’d be back here this quickly,” Yoshino said softly.
“Well, there’s no doubt about what’s gonna happen next,” Darquin muttered.
A tall crystalline panel dilated, opening like a whirlpool in a dream. As one, they entered the darkened chamber that was the home of the Ranger Council.
“Come forward,” a voice said through the dark. It was female, and Minbari — but most definitely not Nesaan’s. In fact, it was one of the last voices they expected to hear.
Kim said nothing, aware of movement through the darkened spaces. Darquin shot nervous glances at the others, though pointless in the dark. Morgan stopped, mouth opened to say something forgotten.
As they took a few steps forward, two lights came on. One illuminated the four Rangers. The other lit up the figures of the President of the Interstellar Alliance, and beside him, Ranger One. Entil’zha Delenn herself had summoned them.
Darquin paused, facts and faces sinking in. “Can I amend my last comment?”
Kim shot him a quick sideways glance before bowing to the pair. Nervous tension coiled up in her chest, leaving little room for breath. Yoshino smothered a nervous giggle behind her hand, then followed Kim’s example, bowing deeply from the waist. It was taking her considerable effort to remember four hundred years of social evolution — and not throw herself onto the floor.
Sheridan grinned, firm but cordial, his voice sometimes rasping. “Good afternoon. I take it I’m addressing Rangers Morgan, Matsumoto, Yoshino, and Darquin?”
Kim and Yoshino nodded, but Morgan was the first to speak, answering in mid-bow. “Ie. Yes, Mister President.”
Darquin nodded, finding his wits at the last minute, followed the others’ lead and bowed. “Mr. President. Entil’zha.”
“We didn’t mean to startle you,” Sheridan said, “but we wanted to talk to you as soon as possible.”
“Yes, it seems that while we were focused on the galaxy, we nearly overlooked a great injustice here at home,” Delenn added.
“We don’t have the whole story, but enough to know we had to get involved,” Sheridan said.
Morgan glanced at the others, but didn’t comment. “What would you have us do?” Kim asked. “We are at your service.”
The Entil’zha encouraged them to tell their tale, which began with their arrival in Tuzanor for security detail. Kim led the telling, and then with the others, went on to explain events as remembered… and the mess that followed. When their account brought them full circle to this final meeting in the darkened council chambers, the President spoke.
“Let me get this straight,” Sheridan said at the end. “You were given this assignment, got briefed on it, no special orders. So you were set up from the very beginning.”
“Certainly how it appears, sir,” Morgan said.
“At the very least, someone neglected to tell us something we should have known,” Yoshino said.
“And I don’t necessarily feel our peers on the security team are to blame,” Kim added. “I like to believe most would have said something, had they thought our orders incomplete.”
Sheridan sighed, fuming. “I should think so.”
“There’s what Nesaan told us too,” Darquin added. “There’s some political thing going on with…” He hesitated, glancing away from Delenn. “Well, we’re getting scapegoated. Anything else is guesswork.”
Delenn nodded. “I had hoped that our castes had let go of this sort of foolishness, after the lesson of the Starfire Wheel. But do not worry. We will not allow you to suffer for the sake of misplaced pride.”
“We’ll discuss this with the Ranger Council,” Sheridan said. “Get this whole thing sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction.” With a shrug, he nodded to Delenn. “Or at least to ours.”
She smiled back at him, and at the four Rangers. “Members of the Council that are more bound to tradition will be hard put to question this action, given the tradition that gives the Entil’zha the final word.”
Kim bit her lip to keep from smiling until she got control of the urge. “I’m sorry — I think we all are — that you had to get involved. As if there wasn’t enough to do in a day….”
Sheridan coughed despite himself, answering roughly, “Tell me about it….”
Delenn quickly looked to him, then said, “Perhaps we could continue this conversation in a somewhat more comfortable setting, for all of us.”
“Good idea,” Sheridan said. “I could use a drink.”
Morgan had to smile. “And there is more than a little anxiety tied up in this place as well.”
“No kidding,” Kim said with some feeling.
“This way,” Delenn said, pointing off to another corner of the room. A slightly dimmer light came on, illuminating the way to a door.
They all reconvened in a small private room with cushioned seats and a small table. Darquin absentmindedly called it a green room. The President had to explain the reference to Delenn.
“Setting aside this most recent unpleasantness,” Delenn said, “we are aware that you have been on deep patrol with the Sorna’silat. And in battle more than once. Has the prototype been working well?”
“Very well, though it has put the Phoenix to quite the test,” Kim said. “I’m told we’ll be in drydock for a few weeks with the repairs necessary.”
“And repairs to the crew,” Morgan added.
“That’s right,” Darquin said. “The main bridge took some damage. Captain Hale and our helmsman got hit pretty bad.”
“I remember seeing a request to bring the artifact healing device here for Captain Hale,” Delenn said. “I am pleased that it turned out to be unnecessary, in the end.”
“Considering what we were up against, we came off rather lightly,” Kim said.
Sheridan nodded. “I want to stay informed on her condition, all the same. It’s partly why we wanted to help. Your crew has more experience on that ship design than anyone else.”
“The Phoenix really is unique. And the closest to alive I’ve ever experienced,” Kim said.
“More than a White Star would, you mean.”
“Unnerving at times.”
“It is a good vessel,” Yoshino said. “I think the Vorlon elements make it particularly flexible and resilient.”
Morgan smiled. “Even if we are a perpetual test bed.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be that testbed a little longer,” Sheridan said, sharing a knowing smile with her.
“Are there plans to make more like the Phoenix?” Kim asked.
“As a matter of fact, we’ve been discussing it. We’ll definitely need more like her, if not stronger, the way we’ve been going through White Stars.”
“Lord knows every other fleet in the galaxy keeps trying to nail the Phoenix,” Darquin said.
“We do seem to make an inviting target,” Kim said, mouth curling with a rueful smile.
“From what I’ve read, a pretty durable one,” Sheridan said. “Reports say you took some heavy damage. But you’ve been in deep space for weeks, without assistance.”
“We ended up with some rather unexpected backup at the end.”
“What kind?” Delenn asked.
“Vorlon devices in deep space, Entil’zha. But more than any of those tech hunters can scrounge. Enormous, monolithic defenses.” Kim spoke more slowly then, almost reluctant. “…that require telepathic control.”
Sheridan exchanged a troubled glance with Delenn. “More toys left on the playground,” he muttered.
“The Anla’shok will have to be watchful for such things,” she said, “for some time to come, I think.”
Kim glanced between the two of them. “These won’t be an issue anymore.”
“It’s all in the mission files,” Darquin added quickly.
“I am looking forward to reading them,” Delenn said, “in much more detail than I have been able to before. Clearly, I need to be paying more attention.”
“It sounds like interesting reading, all right,” Sheridan said with a rough, short laugh.
“I think the ship had a certain curse placed on it at first launch,” Morgan said.
“Much like another place we know,” Sheridan said.
“Must be quite a change getting away from the station,” Kim said.
Sheridan chuckled, deep and rough in his throat. “You can say that again.” He glanced about the room, as if taking in the totality of the beautiful alien world beyond its walls. “Still, I think I can get used to this. And so can you.”
“The Conspiracy of Customs, Part 3” © 2007 Alida Saxon, Leslie McBride, Jamie Lawson, Joe Medina
Babylon 5 TM and © 2007 Warner Bros.