The Loneliness That Is

Characters: Terry Hale

Passing through the traffic of people and equipment coming and going, Terry felt pleasantly unnecessary. The bridge was in pieces, along with a few other places, the difference this time being that it was voluntary upgrades rather than repairs. The change in the mood showed, and it left her feeling confident to take her shuttle down to the surface of Minbar. It was alone unfortunately – Jordan had his work cut out for him being the acting Chief Engineer – but she had private business to deal with anyway. The Day of the Dead wasn’t quite done with, until she fulfilled that final request from Saraden.

She set her shuttle down not in Tuzanor, but a more remote settlement a good ways around the world from that hub of activity. The small box that Saraden had given her, that had been siting in a drawer on the Phoenix since the Day of the Dead, now rattled around in her pocket as she got out of the shuttle and on to the airfield.

It wasn’t a large settlement. Standing at one side, she could see the other without difficulty. A few homes, necessary services, and a retreat run by the Religious Caste, clustered together for mutual protection in a gelid waste. Terry found it discouraging. She couldn’t imagine living in a place trapped in winter much of the year, though she tried not to pin a human experience to a minbari way of life.

Coat and cloak wrapped tightly around her, Terry walked toward the retreat. She knocked at the door, and waited, putting her back to the wind. A minute later the door opened, letting out a brief puff of warmer air, quickly whipped away. A young Minbari peered out in nervous confusion. His eyes had gone to the long streamers of red hair that had escaped her hood, snapping about in the wind.

“Anla’shok? How may I help you?” he asked in Adronado, the language of the religious caste – he wouldn’t know English out here, at his age. It was likely that out here the only humans they saw were on the vid.

Terry replied in the same. “I am here to see someone named Sorenn, at the behest of a daughter.”

That got Terry in the door -a hallway that was wonderfully warm by comparison- and left alone to pull herself back into presentable order while help was fetched.

Help did arrive, at a more respectable pace. An older female in pale robes presented herself and bowed, introducing herself as Calill.

“Shok’na Terry Hale,” Terry returned. “I’ve come to see Sorenn.”

“Yes… on behalf of a daughter, you had said? I’m afraid Sorenn had only one daughter, and she has passed some months ago.”

Terry sensed a rebuke in that. One she could agree with, if the duty was one to be carried out upon death all those months ago. Something Terry would have gladly done, had she known sooner. “Calill, are you familiar with the Brakiri ‘Day of the Dead’?”

Calill’s eyes widened. Even if religious studies had not included it, the news had a few things to report since it happened. “Saraden visited you?”

Terry nodded, relieved that there was at least a willingness to listen, a curiousness, if not belief. “And she asked that I deliver this to her family. Her mother seemed the proper person to see…” She retrieved the small box from her pocket. It wasn’t anything particularly attractive. Simple and dark, with a waxy seal keeping it closed.

Calill became troubled. “I believe what you say, Shok’na Hale, but I am not sure if it would help. It may very well do harm.”

That confirmed Terry’s questions of whether Sorenn was attendant or attendee at the retreat. “While I do not wish to cause trouble, it was Saraden’s request, and if she feels it is right, I don’t see how anyone could argue.”

Calill’s emerging smile was sad, even a little rueful. “That is true, though it does not relieve my worry.” She debated it just a moment longer, visibly, then beckoned to Terry. “Come, I’ll bring you to see Sorenn. Just… please don’t be offended if…”

“I understand,” Terry said quickly.

Calill led the way down several halls, across what Terry supposed was a common room (garnering more than a few stares by those about), and to a door. She knocked three times.

“Come in.”

To Terry, it might as well have been the desert given a voice. She exchanged a glance with Calill that overcame race and culture, then the Minbari opened the door and let them both in. Terry only began to see the room and the person in it before a surprisingly hasty introduction was made by Calill.

“Sorenn, Shok’na Terry Hale, who was known to your daughter, has come to deliver something.”

Sorenn drew her eyes away from the window, cast them briefly to Calill, then over Terry until her gaze focused on the box.”Leave it on the table,” Sorenn said, and turned away again.

Terry did set the box down on the table, but she did not accept the dismissal immediately. “It is because of the Day of the Dead -a Brakiri religious event- that I am able to bring this to you,” she said, “I wish I may have known to come sooner. I would gladly speak to you of your daughter now, if you wish to.”

“I am not interested in your stories… Anla’shok. I know all I need to. You may go.”

If Terry was expecting some sort of epiphany to strike Sorenn, some sign that the visit fulfilled a purpose, it wasn’t obviously presented. Calill touched Terry’s arm, staying anything she might say, and retreated out into the hall. Despite warnings of failure, Calill appeared more disappointed than Terry.

“I am sorry Shok’na Hale. I hope you will not take this as a personal attack.” Calill sighed. “Time to contemplate does not help if you don’t spend it on the right things.”

“It is all right, Calill. It’s naive to assume a box can be some sort of magical cure.” Terry stepped away from the door, allowing Calill to escort her back to the front entrance. “The Day of the Dead was… incredible, but it still involves people. And people are stubborn. We can only do so much, dead or alive, to help another person.”

“Did the Day of the Dead change you?” The curiosity was there again, almost hungry. It surprised Terry – Calill didn’t feel like a gossip.

“Yes, because I was ready to. Wanted it. There were only the excuses that needed brushing away,” Terry said. “I think that makes the difference between the night as a gift, or a punishment.”

They reached the door, both of them hesitating. Terry felt the cold trying to push it’s way through the door and stopped to wrap herself more tightly for the walk back to her shuttle. Calill spoke before Terry could announce her readiness to leave.

“It has been such a short visit, and you have had no time to warm yourself. Would you care to join me for a meal? Unless of course duties require your immediate attention.”

There were duties to attend to, and friends to visit – a dozen things she could do with the time granted during their docking. She didn’t know what she would talk about to Callil, and even after the Day of the Dead she wasn’t one to believe that lunch with a stranger was Saraden’s great plan.

But Terry understood loneliness.

“I would enjoy that, thank you.”