Leaving Medlab, Kordieh rubbed his eyes, then consulted his chrono. It was already 0930, past time when he would have been finding his way to bed, and he hadn’t exactly slept much, or well, coming into this shift. But there was still something important he needed to do.
He hurried back to his quarters, and checked his messages. There was still no reply from Morgan. This was the third day since she had returned from the expedition to Rolui 4; and almost the fourth since Ryath had departed, but still the First Officer was ignoring his messages for her. There was nothing for it but to try and tackle things directly. He got himself cleaned up, then headed out again. Stepping into the nearest lift, he sighed, “Bridge deck.”
The lift moved a short distance, then paused. “Access restricted. State your purpose, for authorization,” the computer said.
Kordieh tried to convince himself there wasn’t an accusatory tone in the computer’s voice. “I need to speak to Shok-na’li Morgan, on a personal matter.”
Kordieh closed his eyes and waited.
Yoshino’s eyes widened as the notice came across her board. “Shok-na’li,” she said, turning to look at Morgan behind her station, “Dunstan Kordieh is asking authorization to the bridge. He says he needs to speak to you on a personal matter.”
Morgan’s brow furrowed, annoyed. “Denied,” she said sharply. Then she took a breath. “But I will meet him in my office in five. As long as he makes it quick.”
He was there precisely on time, uniform freshly cleaned and pressed, standing straight and shoulders squared. The only hint that something might be wrong lay in his eyes. After a brief bow, he said, “As you requested, Shok-na’li, I will keep this brief. First I wished to express my gratitude that you came through the trouble planetside safe and well.”
He drew a deep breath and re-squared his shoulders. “Second, I would like to know what it is I have done wrong.”
“Diolch, your concern is noted. But I do not understand what you mean by ‘wrong’. Everyone in MedBay thinks you are doing exemplary work.” She made a point of only looking at the accumulated paperwork on her desk, face closed.
“What have I done wrong to you?” he asked. “We were friends. Since you returned from the planet you won’t even speak to me.”
“You haven’t done anything to me. Nothing at all.”
Kordieh was silent, though he felt very much like screaming, or stamping his foot on the deck in sheer frustration. Finally he said, “Then please, why are you so angry with me? Mon Dieu, you won’t even look at me!”
“I made a mistake, that is all. Is there anything else?” She did look up at him then, but wasn’t as closed as she had intended.
The expression that met her glance was shifting rapidly, from confused frustration down into lonely grief. He looked down at the floor. “No, I guess there isn’t,” he said, so low that she could barely hear it. He turned toward the door.
Morgan took a couple calming breaths. They weren’t very effective, but she spoke anyway. “Now, I have not much time. Later…. perhaps. I have fresh tea from my cousin.”
He looked back over his shoulder, managing a smile. “I try to sleep until around 1800,” he said. “Call me whenever you can.”
“Ie, I will.” Now that she said it, she knew she had to. She stood to see him out. With a polite bow, he was gone, the door sliding shut behind him.
Morgan sat again, heavily. She pressed her hands to her throbbing forehead, not believing how foolish she was acting. She should have learned better, but obviously she hadn’t.
The next day, Morgan was called to Medlab Two. Daanike greeted her with a bow and warm smile as she came in. “Come to my office, Shok’na-li,” she said. Once there, the healer presented Morgan with a small box, filled with thin packets. “This is the aranonn preparation,” she said. “It can be mixed with any liquid, and then drunk immediately, once a day. My notes suggest that warm liquids work best; the preparation will lend a sourness to whatever it is mixed with, but it is said this is quite mild. It is possible that human senses might not even notice.”
“Warm liquid,” she repeated, fixing it in her mind. “Is this a first course only, or do you know that yet?”
“I will need to check you again once this course is completed, to see what effect the aranonn has had. Be sure to eat well. The only side effect in my notes is an occasional anemia, but proper diet should prevent that from being a real problem.”
“Ie, I will do my best. And I will report to you anything unusual.”
“Good,” Daanike said with a nod. “Now then … I’d like to ask you about something else, completely unrelated to your treatment.”
Morgan was surprised. “Ie, of course, whatever I can do.”
“Do you know what might be troubling Mr. Kordieh? I have only seen him briefly since our return from the planet, at shift changes, but he seems rather disturbed about something.”
Reminded of it again, her shoulders tightened. “Ah. He had been growing close to that Technomage, the one we sent away. Is there anything else?”
The Minbari shook her head. “No. I won’t keep you, Shok-na’li.”
Morgan took the box and headed for a lift. Shortly after, secured in her quarters, she set about fixing the warm liquid to take the mixture with. But as her hand reached for the tin of tea, she sighed. She had made a promise, like it or not. She looked at the time before using the intraship comm. It was almost 0930. Kordieh would have ended his shift not quite 90 minutes before.
After a brief war with herself, she called him. The response was prompt, even if the words themselves were not. “Kordieh. How … how may I be of service, Shok-na’li?”
She hesitated. “I am sitting down to a cup of tea, if you would care to join me.”
“I …” he seemed about to say something, then apparently thought better of it. “I will be there shortly. Kordieh out.”
He appeared at Morgan’s door shortly afterward, dressed in a Minbari-style robe of soft grey. He bowed as the door opened, a bit awkwardly for the book tucked under one arm.
Morgan returned it. “Please. I was just about to pour.” She stepped aside to let him in.
He took a few steps inside, looking around for where to sit. “Thank you for calling me,” he said quietly.
She showed him to the small table. “If I say something, I mean it.”
He nodded, taking a seat and folding his hands in his lap over the book. “I’m still very confused,” he admitted. He sighed, taking a sip of tea. “I realized you didn’t like Ryath. I should have seen that before, really, but … well, I’m still not as good at reading people as I ought to be. So here’s the confusing part. She’s gone. And I’m still here. I could have chosen to go with her, but I didn’t. So why are you still so angry with me?”
“Angry? Nage. Only annoyed at myself, for some foolishness.” Quickly, she drained her cup, grimacing at the slight taste.
“Then … I’m even more confused. We’re still friends, aren’t we?”
Silently, she nodded, refilling her tea, using it as a stall to answering. He drank a little more of his own, setting the cup down and rubbing his eyes as he waited. She finally couldn’t stall any longer and sighed. She didn’t prevaricate well, and never had. “I apologize for my behavior, Dunstan.”
“It’s all right,” he said, looking up and offering a smile. “I just don’t understand what’s going on, really. If it wasn’t something I did, then what?”
Morgan sniffed. “I would have to embarrass myself to tell you,” she said, finally starting to be honest, but still really wanting to avoid the whole subject. “Only… This technomage annoyed me.”
“She annoyed a lot of people,” Kordieh agreed. “Even the ship was incompatible.”
“It was also… I am not sure she would have been good for you.” But that was mostly a lie and she knew it.
“The more I think about it, the more I have to wonder myself,” he said. “I think it was that doubt which kept me here.”
She nodded. “Ie, that is good. We would hate to lose you.”
“Ah. Other people would miss you too.” She industriously stirred her tea.
“So, once again I find myself starting over. I think it’s a good thing my friend Karvos sent me something other than Eliot to read.” He lightly tapped the book in his lap.
“Eliot I have read. What is this new thing?”
Kordieh showed her. The cover was white, with a simple line drawing of a little boy’s face — except that he had a gabled roof for the top of his head. The title was written in large letters next to the drawing: “A Light in the Attic.”
Her eyebrows lifted, surprised. “My niece had this, but I do not know it. What is it?”
“It’s written for children, but it’s wonderful.” He opened the book, turned over about half the pages, then began to read:
Last night while I lay thinking here Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear And pranced and partied all night long And sang their same old Whatif song: Whatif I flunk that test? Whatif green hair grows on my chest? Whatif nobody likes me? Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?...
Morgan was stunned by its directness. “`Whatif…'” she whispered.
“I guess kids have that kind of stuff to deal with too,” he said, picking the book back up and finishing his cup of tea.
“Sometimes, ie.” She tapped her fingers on the table lightly. “I suppose one could say I realized that I had let the ‘whatif’s get in the way, until it was apparently too late.”
He was quiet for a minute, digesting this, then said, “Forgive me … I’m pretty thick sometimes when it comes to understanding people. But are you trying to tell me …” he caught his breath, “are you trying to tell me, you want to be something more than my friend?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but nothing would come out. The possibility of failure was too strong.
“Bon Dieu,” he said after a moment. “I’m so sorry … I never knew …” He shook his head, staring back down into his lap. “Heavens, I am a fool.” He looked up again. “Margaret, I’m so sorry. Right in front of me, all the time.”
After a few false starts, she shrugged helplessly. “Nage, you could not know. I let things stay as they were, for safety.”
“I …. now what do we do?”
“I do not know. I do not even know if you…” There her courage failed. She stood quickly. “I should return to duty.”
Startled, he was a bit slower to rise. He managed to catch her gaze and said, “Please … be careful.”
She sniffed. “On duty? It will be a wonder I do not destroy us, with my mind not on work.”
“Perhaps you should consider taking a day’s leave.”
Plainly, that had not occurred to her. She looked at him blankly a moment, then said, quietly, “Perhaps. But this… I do not know what to do about it.”
“I’m afraid I don’t either. I still feel a fool for not seeing what was in front of me. If I … pursue it now, am I some kind of cad? The last woman in my life is gone less than a week, and I am already jumping at the next? What does that look like?”
Morgan looked at him, then shrugged helplessly. “I could not say. I have a… a limited history.”
“Appearances to the contrary, so do I.”
Morgan nodded, then paused. “I suppose I must decide what to do this particular moment.” She sniffed, then after only another moment’s pause, turned toward the comm panel set into the wall, to call the bridge.
The response was prompt, as always. “Bridge, Yoshino. How may I serve, Shok-na’li?”
“Things run smoothly, Anla’shok?”
“Indeed they do,” the Ops manager replied. “We remain on alert in case the Gaim choose to take issue with the way we settled their enterprise on Rolui, but there has been nothing out of the ordinary as yet. All other systems are nominal.”
“Diolch, thank you.” She paused. “I have finished in Medlab, but I believe I need to remain here for some time.”
“Certainly, Shok-na’li. I will call you if something urgent comes up.”
“Very good.” After a pause, she added, “Quiet shift. Morgan out.”
Kordieh had resumed his seat, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. “I imagine it has been a while since you took a day off.”
She put on a brave smile before she turned around. “Enforced leave, of one kind or another, for many years. It seems recent to me too. I have only finally started to let go of grief from…. It has been a long road.”
“We have plenty of time. Frankly, I would like to take my time about this … despite …” He muttered something to himself, low and in French, before going on again. “Well, anyway. There’s no reason we can’t take our time.”
“Ie.” She turned to look at him. “Despite what?”
He blushed to the roots of his dark hair. “Something about me you need to understand. In many ways, I’m still an adolescent. Definitely emotionally, and … in at least one way … physically.”
Morgan looked at him steadily, even though it was unexpected. “There is no shame in that,” she murmured. “Why would you think so?”
“It just … feels strange,” he said. “I mean … I’m nearly 35, and hardly ever thought about … that … until last year.”
“There can be… dry spells in any life, if that makes it easier to consider. I was married once, but not since.” She looked away again, also embarrassed.
“That’s certainly not anything to be ashamed of, either,” he said, watching her. “That was the grief you were talking of, that’s been so hard to let go?”
She let out a breath and nodded. “It was easier to cling to that, for an excuse, than to try something new.”
He chuckled. “I am intimately familiar with that feeling. I was given my life back, deserved or not, and I really ought to try and make something of it.” He started to yawn, covering his mouth. “Sorry. I am usually heading for bed at about this time. I usually go for dinner around 1900. Would you like to join me?”
“Ie, I would.” She managed a weak smile. “Diolch. I was beginning to feel as if I were mad. I have spent so much time keeping people at arm’s length, it has become hard to believe someone would want to become close.”
He chuckled again, shaking his head ruefully. “I know exactly what that’s like. If that’s going mad, we’re all in a lot of trouble.”
“Ie.” She stood to see him out. “Rest well.”
“I will, now,” he said. “Thank you for talking to me. It has made all the difference in the world.”
Her normally pale cheeks colored. “I should not have hesitated.”
“Oh please, don’t worry about that now. I don’t think either of us should waste our time by thinking about ‘should’ or ‘should not’ any more.” He leaned forward, catching her hand and pressing it to his lips. “I’ll see you tonight,” he said, slipping out the door before she could say anything.
Stunned, she sank back into her chair, flushing more. It was going to be a long afternoon.
Copyright (c) 2004 Jamie Lawson and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.