Dunstan Kordieh sat alone along one edge of the Phoenix’s main mess hall, a data-book nestled between tray and empty dinner dishes. He looked up for a moment, watching several groups of people passing back and forth.
In many ways it was the same as before — he was alone, and Others passed around him, unnoticing. The difference now was that he was noticing the others. At least, an observer of the world, if not yet a full part of it.
He sighed a little, and looked back down at the data-book. In information, at least there was nothing to be afraid of.
Morgan was returning her plate, fully intending to head back to her office for a while longer when she noticed him. She paused, considering, then detoured back to the food line.
At the far end, a dark-haired Ranger with an apron over her uniform was setting two large bowls of glistening white custard within reach. She smiled as she saw Morgan approaching. “Good evening, Shok-na’li,” she said. “I trust dinner was to your liking?”
“Yes, it was, thank you. And I think I’ll indulge myself tonight too.” She smiled, trading her plate for the two bowls.
“Enjoy,” the Ranger said, handing over a pair of spoons.
Morgan nodded pleasantly as she turned away and headed for the side of the mess hall.
Kordieh looked up as he heard approaching footsteps. “Hello, Anla’shok Morgan,” he said, surprise evident in his tone.
“Anla’shok Kordieh. May I join you?” She added the enticement of one bowl of custard, smiling.
“Oh, of course,” he said, scrambling to make room on the small table. “It’s very kind of you.”
She waved it off as she sat. “I needed an excuse for dessert.”
“It’s a bit of a treat for me,” he admitted. “But I think I’m not the only one who could use it.”
“Oh, I don’t need dessert,” she joked, looking across the table at him.
He smiled awkwardly. “I … I guess I was just trying to say that everyone seems really tense.” He shook his head. “Maybe it’s always this way outbound for a mission, and I didn’t notice before.”
She nodded. “There usually is, plus there are lots of unknowns on this. Not that some of our ‘known’ duties are any safer.”
“Definitely,” he said. “Though, at the risk of sounding like I’m indulging in self-pity, I don’t think I’m helping matters. At least for some people.”
Morgan paused, trying to be tactful. When she couldn’t think of how, she was her usual blunt self. “Perhaps not. But you’re here for your own sake, not theirs.”
He nodded. “I know. If it were just about anyone else, I think I could just let it go. But in this case … it’s Doctor Brannon. She didn’t even want to look at me.” He explained what had happened when he reported for duty.
“That doesn’t sound right.” Morgan frowned.
“I … I suppose I shouldn’t let it bother me, and if it was anyone else on the ship, I could probably manage. But I’m supposed to be working directly under Doctor Brannon and Healer Daanike.”
“Ie. Has Daanike treated you the same way?”
“Oh no, quite the opposite. She’s been very kind.”
“I wonder what’s up, then – That doesn’t sound like Doctor Brannon.”
“I don’t even remember meeting her before, though that isn’t necessarily saying much. What do you think I should do?”
Morgan stirred at the custard, thinking. “I could talk to Doctor Brannon myself,” she finally said slowly. “Or you could yourself, with a mediary if you like.”
Kordieh stared into his own dish for a minute, thinking. “Maybe it would be best to start by talking to her myself, if she’ll listen,” he said. “If that doesn’t work, maybe I could call on you then?”
“Of course. The smooth operation of this crew is one of my jobs. Even if you weren’t a … a friend.” She smiled shyly. She didn’t admit that often, having convinced herself for a long while it was easier without them.
“Thank you,” he said. “It is … it feels good, to have a friend.” He looked at her and smiled. “I never knew what that was like, before.”
“I tried that once. Its easy to fall into, not so easy to fall out of it.”
“So much of my life is so completely new, from the way it was before. Before we left Minbar, I joined some of the Minbari for a rebirth ceremony.”
“Oh, yes? How did you find it? I haven’t yet.”
“It was … liberating. It … it helped me to put what I was behind me. Not to forget it,” he added quickly, “but to not let it rule me any more. I’m truly not the same person who was on thePhoenix before.”
He lowered his head. “I just hope I can convince Doctor Brannon of that, somehow.”
“She must be convinced of it.” Morgan paused, considering how to explain herself. “Do you know anything of the Society of Friends, from Earth?”
His forehead grew several creases as he thought. “A religious group, isn’t it? Also called the Quakers?”
“Yes. One of their tenants — they only have a few — is that we all have the same access to… the Inward Light, whatever you want to call it. If that’s the case, everyone must be equal and treated as such, no matter race, species, creed. Or their past. The Anla’shok must be the same way, or we will start to unravel.” Then her mouth quirked. “Sorry. That is my… soapbox speech for the day, I promise.”
He laughed. “Thank you. It really helps a lot, to have friends and people who will support me. I’m beginning to think I’m lucky, having three. Not everyone has as many as that, do they?”
“Definitely not, no.” She smiled.
He tucked into the custard, eating for several minutes in silence. Then he looked back at Morgan. “I think maybe I’d better try and talk to Doctor Brannon as soon as I can,” he said. “Better now than later, especially if we get busy in Medlab. Which I hope we don’t.”
“I never hope we do. But trouble seems to follow us, unfortunately.” She grimaced.
He offered her a tentative pat on the arm, and a self-deprecating grin. “At least this time, it won’t be me.” The grin faded into sober determination. “I promise.”
“I believe you.” Morgan smiled. “And never be afraid to come see me, about anything.”
Copyright © 2002 Jamie Lawson and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.