Touchstone

Characters: Margaret Morgan, Terry Hale

In just a few minutes, as swiftly as they’d gathered the fleet of White Stars dispersed to their new assignments, a spray of jumpgates that turned the immediate space around Earth into a wild tapestry of black and gold. All but six disappeared into hyperspace; three maintaining a peaceful orbit in a ready honor guard to the new president of the Interstellar Alliance, and three bound for planetfall. Three more, Terry thought, and they’d have a sacred gathering.

For Minbari. She smiled slightly at the ironic quirks to the very way she thought, much less acted. So close to home, the changes became so much more apparent. It would be a strange homecoming indeed.

“When in Rome…” She smiled at the confusion on the Minbari faces, as well as a few humans. “While we’re here, we follow the law of the land. Contact Earthdome and place a request for permission to land in, oh… North America.”

She listened with abstract interest at the cross chatter between Ops and Helm consoles, and Earthdome Air and Space Traffic Control. They needed no help in the task, and her mind turned to others. It was only the intrusion of light that caught her attention moments later. First a defused glow, and then sharpening to cast shadows about the bridge. For a moment they skimmed above the high clouds, then burst through, the colored patchwork of life below slowly filling their view. From a distance it looked so orderly, so clear.

Hale reached to the cluster of communications controls fixed into her armrest, and opened a shipwide channel. “Attention–” she paused before the word Phoenix slipped out. She’d grown surprisingly accustomed to it’s command the short time she held it. Her thoughts drifted momentarily back to the shipyards. “We are on final approach. This is not only a historic occasion, but a personal one as well for many of you. We’re all been a long time away from our homes and families. Equally long have been the demands of duty.

“This is now the time to temporarily put aside the latter to enjoy a time for yourself. We will likely be here almost to the new year, if not past it. Spend the time as you like, where you like. There may not be another chance for it in a good while.

“Be careful, have fun, and… well done. You’ve all earned it.”

Hale closed the com channel and relaxed to watch the landing. With learned precision the White Star set down on the blinking pads of the ship port. Startling in it’s quiet, the ship’s engines softened their operation to barely a murmur even within the chambers of engineering. Soon the sound of voices and departing footsteps replaced the noise as many filtered away to their quarters and in time the world outside.

In a matter of minutes not even a handful remained on the bridge. Hale looked out the viewports with bemused wonder. It was surprisingly odd to see the Human structures that stretched out to the horizon about the port. Even odder that she was now free to walk among them.

Her first officer also was feeling strange. To not be preparing for another fight or task was all but foreign to Morgan now, yet she found herself facing a span of days she would have to find some way to fill outside of duty. She took a long stretch, then looked outside curiously. She had only seen Earth on rare occasions, a place more often defined by vid than personal experience.

“Anyone to visit?” Hale asked abruptly as she stretched her legs out, crossing them at the ankles.

“Me, sir? Not anymore.” Morgan refused to acknowledge the images her mind taunted her with at the question. It was bad enough they inhabited her nightmares. “What about you, sir?”

“Terry. Or Hale, if you must.” Then she shook her head. “Not any more, really. Been twelve years gone.”

“This was never home to me.” Morgan explained quietly. “A place to visit, or to train.”

“There are some good places to visit still. Things you won’t see anywhere else.” The captain sounded wistful a moment. “Good time to take advantage of the place, too. We may not get a chance for downtime for a while.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start. Except…. There are too many memories, si– Terry. I’ll oversee the resupply,” she offered hurriedly.

“If you like.” Terry wasn’t about to argue. You couldn’t force a person to enjoy themselves… and she understood the source of the reluctance. She fingered a data crystal pulled from an inner pocket. Her own plans were not for pleasure just yet. “I’ll be out, a couple days at least.”

“For what? Ah, if you don’t mind the asking.”

“Clean up, I guess you can say.” She continued in a quieter voice, “We lost a lot of people this past while. Some of them had family here. Relatives, Spouses… some children. Someone’s got to see they know, and are taken care of if there’s need.”

Now the memories wouldn’t leave Margaret alone. She closed her eyes a moment. “What does it involve?”

“Some of it’s going to be visiting homes. I’m doing that. For the rest… well, prisons and orphanages seem to catch the fall out from Nightwatch’s persecutions.”

“I will do that.”

Hale looks at her, frowned at the nearly inaudible statement. “Not alone. Is there something wrong?”

It took Margaret a few moments — she hadn’t told anyone before, not even the courage to tell Reece in person. Her voice was low when she continued. “My sister… and her little girl. Executed by Nightwatch. And they sent me vid of it.”

Hale’s eyes flashed with quick anger. She could hardly believe it but she knew Morgan wouldn’t lie. She had to swallow back bile at imagining it before responding. “I’m sorry. Maybe… maybe you shouldn’t do this. There’ll be plenty to help.”

Morgan shook her head. “No.” Her voice cracked. She tried again, with a little better success. “No. I have to. If I can prevent someone else pain…. There will be ones only separated from their families, ie?”

“Yes. I’ve already got the computers working on names, ties, etcetera.” Terry looked at her closely, hesitating, but then nodded. She was not about to forbid something that might help in the long run.

“Then I must do this.” Morgan finally looked up, for the first time in all this. The bridge lights reflected in her eyes – the closest to tears most would have ever seen her.

“I understand.” Hale stood and went to one of the emptied work stations, and inserted two data crystals: one full, one blank. When it was finished, she held out the copy. “This is the list to date. North America first, since we’re already here, and then spread out.”

The other woman nodded. She took it, tucked it away safe. “I think they wished me to betray the Rangers in my revenge.”

“Not a bad attempt. Not sure what I’d have done in your place,” Terry answered honestly. “I’m sorry we — the Rangers — couldn’t do anything to help.”

“Neh. Their downfall was that vid, and not one of captivity. Too late before I even got news.”

“Even so.” She sighed, then changed the subject slightly. “You need any charges checked into? You’ll be all right using your identicards out there?”

“I had paid my debt before I left here last.” Morgan’s smile was twisted. “Unless there are new charges they have graced me with in the interim.”

“Quite a homecoming.” Dryly. “Good enough, but if you run into anything….”

Ie, I shall call. Though being a Ranger means something, even here, now.”

I hope so. It was habit to take on the worries for the whole ship, but Terry nodded her agreement. “I’ll see you on the rounds then.”

Ie.” She hesitated. It was an invasion, but… “Your pardon, but are yours gone by Nightwatch too?”

Terry paused, caught as she about to turn. “Nightwatch wasn’t even conceived then, I don’t think. I lost my husband to Teucer’s Disease. His kids are grown and gone about their own lives. Nothing really to keep me here, now.” She sounded calm, but it was a good mask.

“Then we are alike. My priod… husband is long gone too.” Something else she didn’t tell often, but her captain had proved her trustworthiness.

Hale was honestly surprised there might be something in common, besides duty. “Here?”

“No, Earthforce. Away, in the cold of space.”

“I’m sorry. I… wasn’t there at the end either.” The past was unchangeable now, but her mouth twisted with lingering anger and guilty pain. “And that’s my old grievance with certain people here.”

“I was here, in training.” Morgan shook her head, explaining for her part. “And they send us to help here? More faith in us than I.”

Hale chuckled, but there wasn’t much humor to it. “Who said I ever told the Rangers?”

Morgan found some amusement in that, mouth quirking. “Or I.”

“I’m not surprised.” Terry pocketed her original of the crystal. “Take care out there, Morgan.”

“Margaret,” she corrected quietly. “And you too.”

Hale offered a faint smile, then left. Morgan sighed to herself once she stood alone. What was that saying? ‘Don’t volunteer for anything, you’ll live longer?’


(C) Copyright 1998 Alida Saxon and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.