IS IT REAL, OR IS IT MEMOREX?
Usual disclaimers, plus a little more. I do apologise for the fact that on this occasion I decided to indulge myself shamelessly. Luckily, I know Bruce (and, because of Joe's way of writing actor's interests into their character's, ergo Sheridan) is fascinated by history, especially Civil War stuff. Personally, ancient history is more my bag, although the US Civil War is a hobby of mine, but I think we can all agree that there are certain places we all find fascinating and powerful. I chose one of those. When I started this I was going to be a lot more silly, but you know, Sheridan and Delenn have a way of dragging me into serious situations even when I don't want to go there. Luckily, they also have a wicked sense of humour, and Susan and Michael provided a little light-hearted relief!
This is NOT the fifth season we all know and... well...never mind, let's not go there! Anyway, in this version Sheridan was not made President. He got to keep his commission and chose to stay on B5. Londo didn't become emperor so he's a much easier character and not nearly so threatening. Basically think seasons 2/3 except that Sheridan and Delenn have now been married for a year. Michael's still head of security, Ivanova is still terrifying people as Lt. Commander, Franklin's still the doctor...you get the idea.
Finally, all errors are my responsibility and no one else's!
OK, enough apologising. On with the show....
"Captain. It is not a great thing to ask. I merely wish another room."
Sheridan sighed. He'd had a hectic morning already, and Londo's particular brand of pleading did not appeal. "Ambassador. In case you hadn't noticed, we're short of rooms right now. I simply cannot justify allocating another room to your ambassadorial suite."
"No, Captain. You do not understand. I want to pay for it."
Sheridan took a double take. Londo wanted to pay? Londo "I'll handle the *next* bill" Mollari wanted to pay for something? There had to be a scam somewhere. "Ambassador. What, precisely, did you want the extra room for?"
"Well, I have come across this marvellous recreational program. Quite remarkable. I am sure it will be THE thing in future years. But it needs to be tested first. All I need is a room in which you cannot touch the walls or the ceiling. Nothing more. Then, I will bring in my exorbitantly well paid Centauri engineers to set everything up. You won't have to worry about a thing."
Well, that sounded dangerous for a start. The minute Londo said something was perfectly safe you knew it was trouble. "Ambassador, I can't allow any electrical or computer systems to be attached the station network without it being tested by our own engineers and computer experts. Frankly, I'm nervous of even letting you BEGIN to play around with computer programs. We had enough trouble trying to get rid of that artificial intelligence we activated by mistake last time, without allowing some Centauri virus to run amok."
"Captain. I'm shocked." Londo put his hand on his chest as though he had been mortally wounded. "Are you suggesting that the Centauri Republic is not capable of installing virus free computers and software?"
Sheridan sighed. "No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying I don't want your people anywhere near anything sensitive in case something goes wrong."
"Captain. Nothing will go wrong. I give you my word." Sheridan raised an eyebrow and Londo capitulated, raising his hands in surrender "All right. All right. Have it your own way. What if your people work alongside my people, to ensure everything runs smoothly? Would THAT satisfy you?"
Sheridan thought about it. He still didn't feel comfortable about all this. If Londo was interested there had to be an angle somewhere. The trick was working out what it was. Londo saw Sheridan's hesitation as an opportunity and dived in.
"And once it is all finished, YOU may be the first to try it."
"Noooo thank you." Sheridan knew he didn't want to be a guinea pig. "After you, Ambassador."
"Ah, so you WILL let me have me the room?"
Cornered. Damn! Oh well. He'd have his own security and computer experts there twenty four hours a day. He doubted Londo would do anything that would harm the station (on purpose), and they could isolate his system from the main network so it didn't pose any threat. "OK. If -- and it's a big if -- IF my people say it's OK once it's installed, THEN I MAY drop by. But I don't guarantee anything. I'll get Commander Ivanova to find you a room. The Markab Ambassador's quarters are still free I think."
"I don't want those rooms, thank you."
"Londo, the disease cannot be contracted by Centauri, and the whole place has been completely sterilised."
"No, you misunderstand. It is not the room itself, it is the location. I want something accessible to the whole station, not just the ambassadors."
"No way." Londo began to protest, but Sheridan was quicker. "If everything is as good as you say then I'll authorise a relocation, but I'll not have you making money out of those who can't afford it in the first place. At least if it's the other ambassadors I know they have expense accounts to cover everything. And if I know you, Londo, this is not going to be cheap."
"Free to you and all the senior command staff?"
"Thanks. I'll let you know. Good day, Ambassador." Sheridan turned away as Londo yelled after him.
"Good day, Captain. You'll not regret this, I promise you." Slapping his hands together in delight, Londo had quite a spring in his step as he turned from Sheridan's departing back and made his way towards his quarters. He knew a good thing when he saw it, and this, what had they called it – 'Holographic immersion?' -- was definitely a good thing. If only it could be improved.
Entering his quarters, Londo considered his next step. He had no doubt the Captain would speak to Ivanova and that he would receive his new room before the end of the day, but what could he do to improve the software? How could he make it more real?
He sat down. Vir was back on Minbar, so if he wanted some hot Jalla he'd have to make it himself. A pity there wasn't some electronic helper: there when he was needed, gone when he wasn't, and conveniently silent the rest of the time. Something that could pop in and out like Draal's system only on his command. Something that could... Londo sat up. Draal! That was it! The keeper of the Great Machine owed Londo a favour anyway. Time to collect.
Nothing was heard from Londo or any of those working in the Markab quarters for over a week. At best, people passing the technicians towards the end of the week said they had an inexplicable grin on their faces, and pockets full of Centauri ducats to keep them quiet, plus, it was said, free passes to the new entertainment facility the minute it went on line, providing no details got out in advance. Clams couldn't have been any tighter shut. The technicians were clearly onto a good thing and they knew it. Curiosity began to build. Sheridan was relieved he'd only allowed the Markab quarters to the Centauri. God alone knew what would happen if whatever it was became available to the general public. As it was, speculation was rife and he had been forced to reprimand several C&C staff (including Corwin, who was normally above that sort of thing) for chatting about the new 'thing' when they should have been watching their boards. He'd be glad when the flash in the pan (as it almost certainly was, given its origins) was over and done with and life could get back to normal.
The day of the opening arrived and Sheridan watched the technical staff leave the new facility with grins on their faces so wide you'd think they'd slept with Starfuries in their mouths. Whatever it was, it was good. Or at least they thought so. Sheridan was a curious man, but not to excess. He could wait. Then his Chief of Security came out and Sheridan's curiosity got the better of him. He hadn't seen Garibaldi this happy for years. What the hell was going on?
"Mr Garibaldi. Could I speak with you for a moment?"
"Sure, Captain. What's up?"
Sheridan moved Garibaldi away from the over anxious and clearly delighted ears of the Centauri Ambassador before beginning his questioning. "What IS it in there?"
"Captain, you gotta try this. I've never seen anything like it. I'm gonna get the tech staff to go over the details with me later and see if I could have a private set-up installed in my own quarters. It's amazing. Whatever you want, you got it. Sun, sea, woods, airplanes, everything. You know, I could've ridden a horse across the Russian tundra if I'd wanted. I reckon even Susan is gonna love this. Heck, I got to see 1920's Chicago. Cars and everything. Now there's REAL security work!" Garibaldi's enthusiasm was infectious, but Sheridan was confused.
"So what is it. Some kind of VR equipment or something?"
"Or something. It's like no VR I've ever experienced. Londo managed to get Draal to help out. Everything's real but it's not."
"Michael, you're not making any sense."
"Captain. You gotta try it. That's all I can say. I can't describe it to you. Just go in and tell the computer what you want. It'll do the rest. Barrel journeys over Niagara. Hang-gliding over the Himalayas. Racing around the old Grand Prix circuits. And best of all, it's all completely safe. If you fall off you won't get more than a bruise 'cos none of it is real. The room's just high enough and just wide enough for everything to work, but not so high that you can get killed. I reckon we ought to have a bigger one installed for large-scale flight training. It'd be awesome. Heck, you could design you're own cruiser, staff it with the best and set it against anything you like."
"None at all."
"So where's the fun?"
"Believe me, there's a big difference between knowing there's no risk and believing it. Your heart's still in your mouth when the 'fury burns up around you."
"Yeah, but they're not real flames. Feels just hot enough to scare you, not bad enough to burn. Hey, Franklin'll be pleased. No more accidents from the rec. room. You can even practise self defence and undercover stuff. Hey, I could give up the real thing for this!" Sheridan looked hard at his chief and Garibaldi grinned, "Well, if there weren't already enough stupid crooks on the station to keep me busy for a lifetime. Anyway," he leaned close and his voice dropped to a whisper, "there's only so much Daffy Duck talking to me I can stand."
Garibaldi's link chirped. "Garibaldi."
"Chief," came Ivanova's voice, "There's some trouble in the Zocalo, they're asking for a senior officer. Can you go sort it out?" Garibaldi grinned ruefully at Sheridan, "Well, there goes my third go in there." He turned back to the link, "On my way. See you later, and Captain?" Garibaldi leaned close for a conspiratorial whisper, "You might introduce Delenn to this. You two could have a wow of a time in there!" Before Sheridan could protest, Garibaldi was away down the corridor as if the life of the entire station depended on his breaking up a heated conversation in the Zocalo.
Sheridan watched the line of technicians moving into the room a few at a time. Apparently, Londo was only allowing brief group experiences for the time being to whet their appetites. Once they wanted something more, the ones who hadn't been working on it would have to pay through the nose. Shaking his head, Sheridan made his way back to his quarters. He could wait a little longer. Maybe when things had calmed down a bit.
But things didn't calm down. In fact, if anything, eagerness for the new entertainment venue increased to the point where discipline became a major issue. At first, Sheridan confined himself to issuing warnings, but when things got too far out of hand he finally declared the facility off limits to all those caught in the latest fracas -- a fight about whose turn it was next which broke out amongst the technicians visiting the ambassadorial wing. As complaints came from those ambassadors who were trying to deal with delicate diplomatic negotiations, it became impossible to ignore the problem any longer. Sheridan ordered security to take the names of all those involved, and uniformly revoke the passes, free or otherwise, which they were carrying. Many were the disgruntled comments, but since Sheridan had never visited the venue, self serving was ruled out as a possible motive. Nearly all had been warned already and realised, upon sober reflection, that they'd got off remarkably lightly. As their attention returned to their jobs they noticed how shoddy their work had become while their minds were elsewhere, and many declared themselves glad to be banned. Their credit chits would take weeks to recover (years in some cases) and the Captain may have saved some from financial ruin. Some even complained, as the spell wore off, that he should have intervened sooner, for spell (of a non-magical sort) it was. A spell worthy of the Technomages. So worthy, in fact, that some suggested it had been left by them to cause havoc in their absence. This was dismissed as absurd by the majority, but the conspiracy theorists lingered.
It was while discussing some of their theories in Earheart's that Sheridan learned he was the only member of the command crew who had yet to pay the place a visit.
"You're kidding me?" Ivanova stared as Sheridan took a gulp of his whiskey.
"Nope. Never had the time and couldn't see the point. Seemed to me it was more trouble than it was worth."
"Whadderyermean was?" Franklin interjected. "As far as I know it's still in perfect working order. The Brakiri and Gaim ambassadors seem to thoroughly enjoy it, and it really is great for training purposes. I taught an intern a delicate surgical technique and let him try as many times as was necessary on a simulated Narn. OK, he killed the simulation about six times before he got it right, but it didn't matter. It's a really useful tool in the right hands, it's just no one seems to have explored its educational merits, only its more… sensual ones."
Sheridan looked up. "What?"
"It's like I told you before," Garibaldi interrupted. "You and Delenn would have a ball. Hey, you could have a ball without asking her and she could still be there."
"We're back to nonsense again."
It was Ivanova's turn to interrupt. "Look, I don't know about Garibaldi's suggestion, but you really ought to try it out Captain. You're always moaning you don't get enough flight hours in, now's your chance to get the experience without the risk or the need to go down to the cobra bays."
"Yeah, and you needn't fly a Starfury if you don't want to," Franklin was warming to the task. "You could fly one of those really old atmosphere airplanes. You know, a Throwfire or something."
Sheridan blinked. 'Throwfire'? Ah, of course. "You mean Spitfire?"
"Yeah, that's it. You could be a 23rd century Biggles."
Now it was Ivanova's turn to blink. "Biggles?"
"That was First World War, Stephen. I'm not sure how history would react to a Spitfire zooming across the trenches of the Somme in 1'6."
"Look, in Londo's playroom you could find out. Go for it. What've you got to lose?"
"Several hours of sleep and a relatively organised schedule judging by what happened to everyone else."
"Not me." Ivanova's Russian pride shone through. "Just needs a little discipline to keep you to your standard recreational hours."
"Well, that and my programming the thing to shut down after an hour whenever Ivanova accessed it." Ivanova's stern look made Garibaldi quickly add a caveat "At her request I hasten to add."
"Why'd you do it? Couldn't you program it yourself?" Sheridan glanced from Garibaldi to Ivanova.
Ivanova looked rueful. "Yeah, but I wanted to make sure I couldn't over-ride the password, so I got Garibaldi to put his own on it. One I wouldn't know. Just in case my discipline got side-tracked."
"It's that good?" Sheridan sounded impressed.
The others nodded emphatically "That good," they said in unison.
"OK, I'll pay it a visit. Garibaldi, you want to show me the ropes?"
"No need. Standard voice interface. Put in your ID card when you enter so it can store any programs you like under your name, and tell it to run the intro program. It's pretty amazing and shows you samples of what it can do. Just watch out," Garibaldi added as Sheridan finished his drink and stood up, "It feels real weird standing in space without a space-suit on. Safe, but real weird."
Franklin and Ivanova nodded emphatically. "REAL weird."
Thus it was an intrigued and, if he was honest with himself, slightly nervous Sheridan who went to Ambassador Mollari's quarters to see if the facility was available. A rather miserable Londo answered the door.
"Of course it is available. Since you banned everyone the place has started to attract moths, and they can't pay. If the Brakiri and Gaim keep at it long enough, together with Franklin's delightful 'surgery for idiots' classes I may finally make my money back sometime in 2298! Be my guest, Captain."
"How much do you usually charge?"
"Fifty credits an hour."
"Fifty??? For a game? That's daylight robbery."
Londo sighed, he'd obviously had this argument before. "Captain, to you it is free anyway. I keep my word. But if, after you have tried it, you don't think it is worth that, I will lower the price. Happy now?"
"I tell you what, Londo. Let's make a deal. You know why I had to ban access before." Londo nodded. "Well, if I think its educational value out-weighs its nuisance value, I'll authorise its relocation to the Zocalo PROVIDED," the glint that was returning to Londo's eyes paled a little, but he held his peace as Sheridan waved a finger in front of him "Provided there are a few changes made."
Londo sighed. He'd been waiting for this since the last fight. "Very well. What changes?"
"Quite simple. One, an upper limit on the amount of time anyone can stay in there for purely entertainment purposes, covered by a password known only to Mr Garibaldi and myself. Let's say one hour per person per week. If Franklin or one of the schoolteachers is using it they can use it for as long as they want, at a vastly reduced rate. We'll call it an educational discount."
"And you accused me of robbery!" Londo could see his profits disappearing before his eyes.
"Secondly," Sheridan continued, ignoring the comment. "a recording system which allows us to check staff usage against work standards. If I see any repeat of the drop in standards we saw before from any worker, that worker will be banned permanently. That should encourage some of them. We may even offer free sessions as incentive to work harder."
"Free??!!" Londo was choking.
"Relax, Londo. I'll see to it you're paid in kind. Free repairs when it goes wrong, that sort of thing."
"It doesn't go wrong. Draal helped to fix the programming. It's self-repairing and self verifying. What you offer is valueless."
"Then I'm sure we can find some other way of reimbursing you, Ambassador. Perhaps we could turn the other way the next time you want to bring something through which, strictly speaking, you are not entitled to. Or maybe I'll just keep ignoring the things you bring in anyway." The look he gave Londo left the latter in absolutely no doubt that the elaborate schemes he had devised to cover his escapades had been rumbled.
Londo gulped at the implications and nodded. "Anything else?"
"Yes. Given the endorsement of my command staff, I reserve the right to commandeer the facility for Babylon 5 once you have been fully recompensed for your initial outlay plus, shall we say, twenty percent profit for your trouble?"
"Twenty percent? You humans have a very strange sense of humour. Twenty percent is a pittance against the returns I was hoping for."
"Ambassador. Look on the bright side. You won't be out of pocket, which you might be if you don't agree to these terms and I decide to shut the thing down anyway. Do we have a deal?"
Londo sighed and sat down, heavily. "Yes. Now, with all due respect, Captain. Get out. You are giving me a headache."
"Pleasure doing business with you, Londo." Sheridan grinned and left the ambassador to his own devices.
"Business. Hah! You make Morden look like an amateur. I would have done better trying to negotiate with the entire Kha'ri at the height of their strength." Snorting, Londo buried himself in his Brivari, a wine whose alcohol content would have put it high on the list of things Sheridan would have intercepted. After a sip he mulled over Sheridan's offer. Maybe it wasn't so bad after all. No more hassles, no more responsibility, all expenses paid and a twenty percent profit. As the Captain said, it was better than nothing. Not as good as he had hoped but, at the rate he was going, he'd have plenty of time to find ways to improve that profit margin. "Val tu." He sighed quietly raising his glass, and then sipped again.
So, this was it. This totally uninspiring door was the entrance to a cave of wonders if the stories he'd heard were to be believed. As he entered a female voice, rather smoother than the standard computer interface voice, asked for his identicard. Pushing it in, Sheridan gazed at the walls. Covered in yellow gridlines and otherwise incredibly boring. Was everyone just high when they came in here? he thought. The computer sang out again.
"Welcome, Captain Sheridan. Would you like to begin with the introductory program, or would you like to devise one of your own?"
"Program initiated. Stand-by." One of the squares formed by the gridlines in the middle of the room began to flash. "Please stand in the indicated location when ready to proceed."
Slightly hesitant, but buoyed by the reports of his other staff, Sheridan stepped into the square and immediately the room disappeared to be replaced by space. He held his breath instinctively and then realised he could not feel the other symptoms of spacing. Carefully, and with one finger poised on his link to signal danger should the need arise he tried to breathe and found that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, he was not, in fact, in a vacuum.
Centring himself, he took a few deeps breaths for reassurance and then looked around. He appeared to be outside Babylon 5, floating in space. Looking up and around was fine, but when he looked down and saw that instead of the floor there was more space he quickly stretched out his arms and staggered. Dropping to his knees he found that while his eyes told him there was nothing, his fingers found the floor he knew had to be there. Feeling a fool, and glad the door was locked with a security over-ride so no one would walk in on the Captain crawling around like a baby, he felt his way along the floor in search of the wall. But no matter how much he crawled he never reached it. His heart began to pound in his chest. This wasn't possible. What the hell was going on?
"Computer. Halt program." Instantly, the floor was restored with its yellow gridlines. Standing slowly, he noted that he was still in the exact centre of the room. He walked steadily to the wall and found it was precisely the five and a half steps he had estimated while he tried to crawl to it. Shaking his head, he squatted down and felt the floor again. "Computer. Explain how I can move in this room without reaching the walls when the program is activated."
"The program includes force-field generators placed in the walls and floor. During program activation, these force-fields are engaged. The program then adjusts the fields to maintain the subject's position at the centre of the room." Sheridan nodded absently. He'd look into the details later. For now, the explanation was good enough, and, feeling a little less disorientated, he wanted to try again. Relocating himself to the centre square, he took a deep breath and spoke.
"Computer. Can you reactivate the program and continue from where I was?" In response, Sheridan instantly found himself back outside the station. A slight jump of his heart in his chest soon settled and he turned to admire the view. This was even better than being in the 'fury. As he stared, the computer spoke again.
"Second stage of program initiated. Flight simulation and solar passage begins."
"Solar WHAT?!" A sudden jerk and Sheridan found himself apparently weightless and zooming off through space. At first, he was flying around the station and Epsilon 3. Then his path swerved away and he found himself moving towards the jump gate. As it flashed open he entered and the red and black glow of hyper-space surrounded him. His pilot's love of space soon overcame his nervousness of being lost in hyper-space. Garibaldi was right. Knowing it was safe and believing it were two very different things, but as he looked around he felt he was getting used to it. Soon it probably wouldn't bother him at all.
The flash of a jump-point ahead drew his attention. Emerging into normal space he found himself orbiting a planet not unlike Earth. Its blues and greens and sea and land contrasting with the white of the clouds swirling around it. After an admiring glance his trajectory changed once more and he headed off towards the sun at the centre of the solar system. An inner planet, perhaps? His speed was impossibly fast and the sun loomed large before him. Somehow, while it was bright, he could still look at it. He suspected the computer was adjusting the luminosity as he grew nearer, to ensure he had the maximum effect without damage. Then again, the heat was increasing. How close would he get, he wondered. Too close. Way, way too close.
"Um, computer?" His direction continued unchanged. "Computer, I assume this is safe, yes?" Still nothing. The sun now occupied his entire field of view and the heat was like a hot day in the desert. A lot less than it would be in real life, but quite enough to be uncomfortable. "Computer?" His speed increased. He wasn't going round the thing, he was going straight through. Oh, Jeez! He'd be toast! "COMPUTER!!" He flung his arms around his head as he entered the sun. "OH SHHHHIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTT!"
The heat was intense but bearable. He continued to shield himself, but after a while, feeling he was stationary, he cautiously lowered his arms. He was INSIDE the star's outer corona. As he looked around in the intensely bright light and heat, both of which were of a level that would quickly become uncomfortable, but neither of which, he realised, were enough to harm him so long as he didn't hang around too long, he smiled to himself. Now here, if anywhere, was the place where 'no shadows fall'. Inside a star! The birthplace of everything in the universe, including himself. 'We are star-stuff' Delenn had once told him. And suddenly he wanted her there, by his side, experiencing this miracle with him. But she was off station, dealing with some border dispute that would take another week to resolve at best. He couldn't wait that long. This was just too good. And he missed her, needed her, wanted her. As he was taken out of the sun and returned, at incredible speed, to Babylon 5, it occurred to him that Garibaldi had suggested the machine could cope with people too. Could it, could he?
"Program completed." The computer's bland description of the end of the journey brought him back to his senses. He stood catching his breath in the middle of the yellow and black grid.
"Computer. Is it possible to create facsimiles of people?"
"And just how accurate are these copies?"
"Accuracy depends on the quality and quantity of input. 100% accuracy is not possible for personality traits, due to the nature of living subjects. A close approximation is possible."
"What sort of input is required?"
"Recent personality files, images both still and animated, biographical history and personal input either by the subject or a close acquaintance."
"Could you create me?" Better to test out on a safe subject first. He knew himself pretty well.
"Files are required."
"Access station records and use my present appearance here."
"Access to station records prohibited. There is no physical connection between this facility and the main computer files of Babylon 5."
"Damn!" It was a sensible precaution of course, but right now a nuisance. "Do you have any files available already?" /Someone must have tried this already, surely, and they would have brought in files from outside/ he thought.
"Affirmative. One file exists on Ambassador Delenn."
"WHAT??? Who the hell did that?"
"File authorship rests with Chief of Security, Michael Garibaldi."
"Michael?!" /I'll kill the weasel. What the hell has he been doing to MY wife?/ "Computer, Access file."
"Password clearance required."
/Well, at least he hasn't made her available to the whole damn station. Now, what's Garibaldi's password? Oh yes/ "Peekaboo."
"Negative on Password. File access denied."
"What?" /What could he have used?/ He thought for a minute. If Garibaldi had created Delenn for his own purposes then Sheridan wouldn't be able to access the file. On the other hand, if, as the Chief had subtly suggested, he'd intended that Sheridan have access, then the password would have to be something only Sheridan and Garibaldi would know. Hmmm.
"Negative on Password. File access denied."
/Shit! What the hell is it?/ He thought some more. Susan and Michael both knew his station password, so maybe Garibaldi had chosen something else to keep it purely for Sheridan's eyes only. He sure hoped so, or he'd have to go looking for another Chief of Security, after he'd spaced this one. Something unique to himself and Delenn. Something befitting Garibaldi's somewhat perverse and twisted mind. Something to do with sex, almost certainly then. Especially given Garibaldi's hints over the last few weeks. The Pleasure ritual? Had he mentioned that to…..YES! He had. He remembered he'd been feeling rather smug and had let slip the reason before he'd realised the ammunition for blackmail he was giving his Chief. Garibaldi had teased him about it once or twice when they were drinking together, but, to his credit, the man had had the decency (not to mention the well developed sense of self-preservation) not to say a word in company. He suspected even Ivanova didn't know about this one. He paused. Actually, on sober reflection, he'd bet a month's pay she knew all about it, but was just keeping very quiet. /OK, so what was that ritual called again? Shan Fal? Yes! That was it!/
"Password accepted. Beginning program." And there before him appeared Delenn, dressed in her usual ambassadorial clothes, and looking for all the world as though she had just stepped out of a meeting. Sheridan was mesmerised. She was perfect! Well, she *looked* perfect anyway. Before he could say anything, Delenn spoke.
"Please re-set the password clearance." Hmm, well, THAT didn't sound like her. His opinion of Garibaldi's programming capacity dropped a notch. Still, maybe it could be rectified later. But why the reset?
"Full program cannot be executed until a new password has been chosen. New password clearance must include command level password of Captain John Sheridan."
/Hmmm. Nice touch, Garibaldi/ So if someone else found it, they'd get nothing more than this formal version. His curiosity was piqued. OK, new password then. What would be appropriate? He thought back to all those times he'd been with Delenn and tried to pick a moment unique to them both. Ah, yes! "Computer, reset password. Obsidian Nachas Duvena." /God, I hope I've got the pronunciation right!/
"Password change completed. Initiating final program."
As he watched, the Delenn in front of him seemed to change subtly. As if there were more depth and more colours being added. She turned to him. "John?" It was her. Intonation, look, confused expression, everything. "What am I doing here?"
"I, um…" Oh God. This was going to be intensely embarrassing. How to say to her that she's a computer construct programmed by the Chief of Security to satisfy the Captain's more risqué tastes. He was embarrassed even to think about it. "...well, you're sort of, I mean, you're a kind of....oh, hell!" He shook his head and stared at the gridlines, his face turning red. As he rubbed his neck self-consciously he felt a gentle touch on his wrist and looked up to see Delenn's concerned face before him.
"It's all right, John. It doesn't matter. It's good to see you anyway."
Hmmm. And just how much of the personality was based on computer files, and how much on Garibaldi's observations of his wife? And if a lot of it was direct input from Garibaldi, just how much time had the Chief spent eye-balling the Captain's lady? He'd have a few words for the Chief when he saw him next. Meanwhile, well, it was a pity to let the opportunity slip by, and her scent was provocative.
He let his arms drop and placed his hands on her hips. She smiled and reached up to kiss him. A light touch before looking around her.
"Where are we?"
"It's a new program. A kind of stim...uh...simulator!" he corrected the Freudian slip and smiled sheepishly. /Good god, John! Get a grip for crying out loud. It's a program. If things get a bit too rich you can just turn it off, reset it, do what you like with it...but boy, is it REAL!/
Delenn cocked her head. "Simulator? As in a flight simulator or something?"
"That, or anything else you want. Uh, let me show you. Computer, initiate introductory program."
The facsimile of Delenn promptly disappeared. "Wha.....Oh hell. Computer, halt." Sheridan took a deep breath. " Let's try this again. Unless I say otherwise, the facsimile of Delenn is to accompany me throughout any program changes until I leave. Understood?"
"Command understood. Initiating program 'Delenn' and program 'Introduction'. Stand by."
Sheridan quickly forgot that this was a facsimile of his wife. She reacted exactly as he thought she would. Garibaldi was good. Too damn good. They'd definitely have to have words later. Meantime...
"John, that was wonderful. To stand inside a star!" Her eyes sparkled with delight. He smiled tenderly at her and then a thought struck him.
"I always wanted to show you my home and we never did get around to it. Let's see...Computer, have you a program of Earth, North American Midwest, somewhere in Illinois?"
"Specify historical site."
"Um, well, I don't think my parent's farm qualifies as a historical site. At least not yet. OK, let's pick something else..." Sheridan mused for a moment. Something that was beautiful, romantic, something that would really impress but not over-awe her. Something natural, then. The big city lights were hardly her thing. He thought back to images he'd seen on Minbar. Those crystal cities, the waterfalls...YES! That was it. "Computer, Niagara Falls, Canadian side, uh, can you make it at a time before humans settled there? And in late summer, say mid afternoon?"
"Programming parameters. One moment please."
Delenn looked at him curiously. "Niagara?"
"It's a waterfall. One of those most impressive in the world. It's also, traditionally, a place where lovers go. That's why it got so built up over the years. It's not too bad now. There was a big back-to-nature kick in the late 21st century and a lot of the hotels and the rest were moved underground and the countryside built back up, but I wanted you to see it before that. I've seen old pictures of when the first photographers got to the place. I reckon before that it must have been even more impressive. A bit wild of course and....oh hell. Computer, any wild animals should be friendly, OK?"
He smiled. "Wouldn't want to get attacked by a grizzly or something."
"A 'grizzly' what?"
"It's a type of bear. Um, look, let's just enjoy the view, huh?"
"Program ready." The computer's soft voice interrupted and Sheridan breathed a sigh of relief. No more explanations for a while. Was Delenn always so full of questions? He put his arm around her waist and looked forward.
"Initiate," he said.
The grid was replaced by a forest of trees. The smell of pine needles and fresh earth filled the air. But where was the...? The sound of rushing water was coming from behind them. Sheridan stole a glance over his shoulder and chuckled. /Nice touch. I must compliment Draal next time I see him on his sense of timing./
"John, I thought you said there was a waterfall?"
"There is. Turn around." He guided her slowly so she took in the entire, breath-taking view. And breath-taking it was. No buildings, no reduced water flow because of hydro-electric dams sucking off the power, no pollution. Just the pure natural force of the Great Lakes pouring into a chasm from two sides, with the resulting river flowing between the sides of the gorge. Delenn gasped. The thunder of the sound, even from this distance as they stood on a rise overlooking the phenomenon, was enough to make the earth seem to shake slightly, or perhaps it was just the sound thudding in their ears. The lowering afternoon sun glinted and sparkled on the cascading water, and a rainbow arched over the chasm where the water droplets thrown up by the force of the flow rendered such a thing possible. The air was balmy but with a light breeze to take the heat off the day. In the forest behind them could be heard the hammering of a woodpecker, the myriad chirp of birds calling to each other and establishing their territories, and the occasional buzz of a bee checking out the local flora for its afternoon fix of nectar.
"John! This is Earth?"
"Yes it is. Earth as it should be, without people ruining it." She looked at him. "Sorry. I've seen how this place was built up for the tourists. This is much better, believe me. We're not as good as the Minbari at making our buildings look natural. Come on, you want to take a closer look?" She nodded, still slightly dazed by the sight and Sheridan led her down the slope to the side of the falls. They towered above them, throwing a thin mist that settled on their hair and clothes. On an impulse, Sheridan led her closer until the mist had become a spray.
He shook his head and pushed her hair away from her face and over her back. Then he leaned down and kissed her, letting his lips roam down her cheek to the side of her neck where he knew she was very sensitive. But the characteristic hum that Delenn always gave when he kissed her there wasn't forthcoming. He paused and tried again. Still nothing. He pulled back and looked at her. She was smiling, but her smile was slightly quizzical.
Damn! Of course. Garibaldi wouldn't know little things like that. At least, he'd better not. A little fine tuning would be in order. But that made Sheridan hesitate some more. This was all very well, and it did make him feel a little better, but this wasn't his Delenn. Very nice, very impressive, but not her. He could show this one whatever he wanted and it would make all the right sounds (well, not that time of course, but it could be remedied) but it wouldn't be the same as the real thing. He could do this as many times as he liked with the facsimile but it would still be all new to the real Delenn.
And the real Delenn was still off-station. That brought him up with a sharp jolt. He froze a little and the fake Delenn looked up at him, curious.
"John? Is something wrong?"
"Nothing. I just...Computer. End program. Both of them." The thundering of the waterfall and the spray instantly ceased and Sheridan found his arm suspended in mid-air. He let it drop to his side and shook his head.
It was good. It was very, very good. But it wasn't the same. It was so tempting to make love by the waterfall, but make love to what? And what would be the point? No, there was a better way. Delenn would be back in a week. He just had to make sure everything was ready when she arrived. He'd plot it out tonight, work on it during his off-duty periods, and give her a welcome home she'd never forget.
Which, of course, would also require a little help from Londo.
He left the room.
"You want it for how long?"
"Captain, I assume you are going to offer *some* payment. I cannot simply close the place off to all other potential customers while you make up for missing your honeymoon."
"I thought you were the romantic type, Londo."
"Romance? Pah! Romance is an illusion, as you will one day learn," he wagged his finger at the Captain who was sitting in Londo's quarters.
"Londo, look. I never got to show Delenn Earth. There just wasn't time in the aftermath of getting rid of Clark and trying to rebuild here. I haven't had a holiday in..." Sheridan thought. To be absolutely honest he couldn't remember the last time he'd had any leave. Even the trip back on the White Star from Earth had involved his attending the command deck from time to time just to keep track of what was happening, and Delenn was never out of contact with her business. Too long. A week wasn't really enough, but it would have to do as it was all either of them could afford. Assuming, of course, some disaster didn't befall the station while he was trying to make up for lost time. At least this way they wouldn't be far away if they were needed. In the meantime... "Londo, I can't remember the last time I got a break."
"The penalty of power, I'm afraid."
"Yes, well I was trying to keep away from overdoing it on that front. That's why I turned down the Presidency of the Alliance. Oh, I'd've taken it if popular and military opinion had forced me out of Earthforce, but they didn't."
"And you never took that promotion they offered you either. I always wondered about that. If you were Centauri you would have."
"Maybe so, but I'm not. I'm just glad they let me come back to Babylon 5."
"An odd place to want to spend the rest of your days."
"Perfect for me, Londo. To each their own." Londo grunted. "Anyway, I want the place for a week. Can you do that?"
"You are side-stepping the issue, Captain. What can you offer me in payment?"
Sheridan sighed. He'd been hoping to save this one. It always helped to have something over Londo. An ace up the sleeve for when you needed to pull back on the leash. There would, no doubt, come a time when he'd regret using this particular card on something as trivial as his honeymoon, but he consoled himself with the thought that the Ambassador got himself into trouble on such a regular basis that he'd probably get a replacement before Londo even realised Sheridan had run out of bargaining chips. And Delenn was worth it. He stood up and beckoned Londo closer. Leaning over he whispered into his ear. Londo straightened.
"He'll kill me!"
"How in the name of the Great Maker did you find out..."
"I have my sources. Now, are you going to give me the room?"
"You may not take promotions like a Centauri, Captain, but you certainly play politics like one. Very well. A week. But no more!"
Sheridan smiled. "That's all I ask. Thank you, Ambassador."
"Afterwards, can I assume you will conveniently forget what you just told me?"
"Never heard a word." Sheridan headed for the door. "I noticed Lady Grigor is scheduled to arrive next Tuesday. Why not see if you can put her off for a week. The place'll be available by then and you can use it yourself? Or would her husband object?"
Sheridan gave a jaunty wink. "On my way. See you later, Londo."
As the door closed Londo grabbed his glass and filled it with such speed the contents slopped over the edge. He downed it in one. "That man is the most insufferable human I have ever met!" He considered his empty glass and refilled it, a grudging smile spreading over his face. "He would make a good Centauri, though." He raised his glass to the closed door. "Good luck, Captain. The honeymoon should be memorable!"
Sheridan's absence from Earheart's the next evening, and the evening after was merely excused with a knowing wink in the direction of the new play area. But after five days and nothing more from him than a passing 'see you tomorrow' as he disappeared down the hallway even Garibaldi thought he was taking things too far.
"I thought everyone else was bad, but he's in there at ludicrous hours. Do you know I logged him in there for five and a half hours last night?" he commented to Ivanova as they shared drinks in the bar.
"He's missing Delenn," was her simple retort.
"I don't think so if the security reports are to be believed. But he doesn't seem to be getting much out of what he's doing. He just looks wiped out the next day. And his general computer usage seems to have gone through the roof."
"I assume you're not spying on the Captain?" Ivanova's tone had a dangerous undercurrent.
"Ivanova, this ain't normal! And he's calling up some pretty obscure stuff. All about Earth, but it's all ancient history. And then he taps into Minbar and cross references."
"You ARE spying on him! Garibaldi, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
"Look, I got a Delenn program ready for him and I know he's accessed it because I can't get in it anymore. But I ALSO know he hasn't accessed it again since the very first time he went in there. It's not Delenn he's missing. It's Earth!" Garibaldi looked around as if to check for spies and then leaned closer. "And have you noticed the station rosters for next week? He's not on any of them. He's got someone covering for every single day. AND," Garibaldi dropped his voice even lower, "I happen to know he's booked out the Holography room for the whole of next week!" He leaned back, satisfied with Ivanova's raised eyebrow. "If you ask me, he's gonna stay in there the whole time. What's Delenn gonna say?"
"Perhaps you should widen your parameters a bit, Michael. If you did you might notice he's managed to shunt all of Delenn's scheduled meetings off for a week as well."
Now it was Garibaldi's turn to raise an eyebrow. "And you tell me not to spy!"
"I wasn't spying. The Hyach Ambassador wanted a meeting and I had to look up her schedule. When I tried to access it I was locked out on the Captain's orders. I can't add anything, request anything, or move anything. It's locked down tighter than a clam. Even Delenn herself couldn't get in there. I know, she called me yesterday to ask me to work on it because she's been trying to add a meeting all week."
"Is it important?"
"The usual stuff. Nothing that's going to lead to the end of the universe as we know it if it's put off for a while, but she wasn't happy."
"I can imagine. What did you do?"
"I told her I'd try and see what the problem was, but for the time being it was best not to try and schedule anything until the following week, just in case."
"So you reckon him and her...?"
"Michael, they're married. It's legal you know."
"Yeah, but all week???" Garibaldi whistled. "I reckon he'd better schedule the following week off as well. He's gonna need a vacation to recover from his vacation!"
"Ah, good. I thought I might find you two here." Sheridan's voice announced his approach and gave Ivanova and Garibaldi a chance to school their expressions. He did, truly, look exhausted, but there was a happy smile on his face and the air of one who had done something of which he was immensely proud. "May I?" He indicated an empty chair.
"Sure Captain. Make yourself at home."
Sheridan put his drink down on the table and pulled up the chair, leaning back with a contented sigh before rescuing his drink and taking a mouthful."
"Jovian Sunspot? You must be feeling pretty good about the world."
"Uh huh. I think I've just managed to create THE perfect program."
"For what, exactly?" Ivanova feigned ignorance, although she had a pretty good idea what was going on. She'd noticed something special about a date which coincided with Sheridan's week off.
Sheridan leaned forward, his enthusiasm plain on his face. "Look, I need a couple of test subjects. I've been so close to this thing for so long I don't know if it's as good as I think it is. Would you two mind joining me in the Holography room later? Say two a.m.? I know it's late but I promised Londo I wouldn't stop him using it this week and that's the only free time there is." Garibaldi and Ivanova exchanged grins. "What?"
"Sure, John. We'd be delighted to see what you're planning for your first wedding anniversary," Ivanova smiled, earning an impressed look from Garibaldi.
Sheridan's shoulders dropped. "I'm that transparent?"
"Only to us." Ivanova checked the clock on the wall. "Well, if I have to be up and awake at two a.m. I think I'll get some sleep now." She downed the last of her drink. "See you later, guys."
"So long, Susan."
"See you later," Garibaldi added, and then leaned over the table. "That good, huh?" Sheridan nodded, a distant look in his eye and a smile on his face. "So come on, spill it. What have you done?"
Sheridan grinned. "You'll see." He downed the last of his drink. "I'm bushed. I think I'll follow Ivanova's example. Oh, and Michael, thanks for the program. I didn't end up using it, but it did give me a lot of ideas."
Garibaldi grinned. "My pleasure. Did I do good?"
"Not bad at all. If you'd known any more I'd have had you arrested."
"On what charge?"
"Bagging the Captain's wife. See you at two."
Garibaldi considered Sheridan's retreating back and smiled. "THAT good, huh? Maybe I should go into business." He finished his fruit juice and made his way from the bar. Seven hours sleep should just about do it.
Sheridan was already there when Susan and Michael arrived. He was clearly itching to get in and beckoned them to hurry up. Looking around the darkened corridor he opened the door and ushered them in. The yellow grid gleamed dully in the muted light. Once the door was closed he locked it and then pointed to the centre of the room. "Ready?"
"As we'll ever be."
"Computer, access and run program, Sheridan One."
The gridlines were replaced with the introductory program and Sheridan turned to his companions. "I wanted to get her into the feel of things and it made sense to start from there. Now we're going to be going through this a bit fast. I've got a week to fill. But it should be good enough to give you an idea. Um, computer, skip this bit. Go to the next scene."
The whirling of hyperspace was replaced by a view of Earth at night, but the only way they knew it was Earth was because as the sun came up the Western hemisphere showing Europe and Africa appeared. Their flight took them down to Africa and they landed near a river.
"And what's this?" Garibaldi asked.
"A history lesson. I know Delenn's pretty up on Human history, but there's a difference between reading it and seeing it. And you have no idea how much research I had to put into this. According to the history books, this was the cradle of civilisation. This was where we all began. Look."
A group of humanoid creatures came out of the thin line of trees hunting the animals that grazed on the open plain. They carried spears and were naked. Garibaldi raised his eyes.
"Don't look at me like that. I wasn't gonna clothe them just to spare some blushes. Anyway, this is history."
"Tell me you're not going into detail on those cultures that go in for major fertility rites," said Ivanova. Sheridan merely gave her a look and asked the computer to move on.
The next view was of a mass of people working together to erect a Pyramid. One was already completed and gold glinted from the capstone to be replaced by smooth limestone over the bulk.
"The Great Pyramid used to look like that originally. Isn't it stunning? And look at the Sphinx!"
The great monument was intact and majestic, colours enhancing it's ceremonial head-dress and eyes which stared, unblinking, into the morning sun.
"It really looked like that?" asked Ivanova.
"Yeah. I was pretty impressed myself. I learned a lot. I'm gonna make these programs available to the teachers when I've finished with them. Well, maybe not all of them," he gave a slight chuckle and then cleared his throat when he saw Garibaldi and Ivanova grinning at him. "The main thing is, this is as close to time travel we're gonna get around here."
"After Babylon 4 it's as close as I WANT to get!" muttered Garibaldi.
"Glad you mentioned that Michael. Computer, next scene." And suddenly they were back in space orbiting another planet. "And this is Minbar, about nine hundred and fifty years ago. I decided I'd skip the end of the first Shadow war, but I wanted to give her something special. Oh, and you can blame Draal for this bit. He managed to dredge up some amazing recordings in the Great Machine. Apparently Zathras kept records which were subsequently delivered to Epsilon 3 and up-loaded."
They descended into the planet's atmosphere and found themselves in front of a great crystal building. There, on the forecourt, surrounded as far as the eye could see by Minbari, was...
"THAT'S Jeff?!" Garibaldi and Ivanova said together.
"Yep. Commander Sinclair as Valen. This is one of the most famous speeches he ever gave. Delenn probably knows it off by heart, but until now no one knew there was a recording of the event." Sheridan beamed broadly. He knew how much this would affect Delenn.
"Can we talk to him?" Garibaldi asked, edging towards the crowd.
"No. This is just a recording. But Draal's got quite a few. He might even be able to recreate Valen based on those and the station records of Commander Sinclair. With Draal's permission this facility is now directly linked to the Great Machine's historical database. You can call up everything they've got down there from here. When I've finished I reckon you two might have some catching up to do."
Ivanova raised an eyebrow. "Were you *just* thinking of Delenn when you did this?"
"Wellllll, I was, but as I got more into it I realised I could justify all the time I'd spent a lot more easily if I created programs that other people could use afterwards. There are some bits that are private but the bulk of it should come in handy. OK, now, nine hundred and fifty years ago on Earth, things were a little different. Computer, next scene. I wanted to give Delenn some kind of comparison," he added.
Another change and they were back on Earth, in the early part of the fourteenth century, in Europe.
"Now, I know the Black Death is a no go, especially after the Markab disaster, so I kinda glossed over that, but I wanted her to see how our religious caste helped to keep things going."
Monks worked away on a manuscript in a monastery. Out in the fields peasants worked to bring in the crops and, on a festival day, the local lord and lady were out among the people enjoying the entertainment with everyone else. Ivanova took note of the clothing and the language being spoken which she could barely make sense of.
"Not quite the way it's portrayed in the old film vids," she muttered.
"Nope. This is a bit closer to the real thing. And don't ask me what they're saying. I haven't a clue either. Ahh, but I recognised that song." A group of people had gathered together and were singing something which seemed to be welcoming the new year. Something about summer coming in and cuckoos making a lot of noise. Garibaldi shook his head.
"That'll never make it to the top," he muttered.
"Actually, it did. That's the oldest piece of music and words recorded. They still sing it in Oxford in England every year on the first of May.
"Trust the English to hang onto something so old no one understands what it means any more!" Garibaldi shook his head. Then he spotted a food stall. "Hey, you reckon that stuff is edible?"
Sheridan nodded. "Oh, yes. The system works by using Einstein's matter/energy conversion formula. But you wouldn't believe the amount of energy in one loaf of bread so I didn't make most of it available else I'd run the station's power core down to nothing. As it was I had to call on Draal again. He's been really helpful, and I think he's rather enjoyed himself in here. The bulk of the historical accuracy is down to him."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. C'mon, which of these can I eat?" said Garibaldi as he eyed the pies on the table.
Ivanova stared. "Garibaldi, it's nearly three a.m. How the hell can you be hungry now?!"
"Hey, I've slept, I'm awake. I call this breakfast." Sheridan indicated a pie and Garibaldi reached out, only to have his hand slapped away by the stall holder. "Hey!" Sheridan shook his head and reached into his pocket, pulling out a piece of metal which he handed to the stall owner. The owner looked at it, nodded, and handed Garibaldi the pie. "What was THAT all about?" he muttered as he bit into it. "Hey, not bad! Could use some tomatoes to liven it up though. You got any?" The stall holder looked at him blankly and Garibaldi started to explain. "You know, to-ma-toes," he said slowly. The stall holder still looked confused. "Red things, around this big," he indicated the size with his finger and thumb. The stall holder offered him an apple. "No, a tomato. Man, you'd think they'd never heard of the things!"
"They haven't. America hasn't been discovered yet, and tomatoes came from there." Sheridan filled in.
"You're kidding me? How can you do Italian cooking without tomatoes?"
"They had to do it without pasta either. Marco Polo brought that from the Far East."
"You're ARE kidding me! Man, I'm glad I didn't live in those times." He took another mouthful. "Susan, you should try this. A bit stodgy but really filling." The crumbs were dropping from his mouth and he quickly caught them and poked them back in.
Ivanova shook her head. "Food plan, remember?"
"I'm trying not to," he muttered, his mouth full. "Every damn year he puts us on one of those things. Anyone would think he didn't like us!" He spotted someone filling a wooden cup with something that looked like wine. "Alcohol?"
"Actually, no. I took a liberty there. Given the Minbari allergy to the stuff I got the machine to take out the alcohol content but leave the flavour. Not bad, a bit..."
"Ugh! Sweet!" Garibaldi sputtered and spat out the rest of the wine. He'd ma de a grab as soon as Sheridan had told him it was alcohol free and now had the red wine dripping down his chin and onto his shirt.
Sheridan shook his head and looked up. "Computer, next scene."
Garibaldi suddenly found his hands empty and he stared. "Hey! Where'd it go?"
"That belongs in the fourteenth century. This is the sixteenth, America to be precise."
"What about the stuff I ate?"
"That's still there. Anything you don't eat or drink gets re-used for the next holographic display. It saves the energy consumption."
"Nuts! I was enjoying that pie!"
"Michael, you are such a pig!" Ivanova shook her head and then turned to Sheridan. "The Founding Father's, right?"
"Yep. This is Plymouth Rock. Of course, there'd been some expeditions here already, but none were successful. This was the first one that survived the winter.
"They look beat." Ivanova pointed to the women and men coming ashore. When they reached the land they hugged each other and then stood as one of their number, apparently a cleric of some kind, led them in prayer. Many of them were pale and had obviously had a rough voyage. Their clothes were filthy and all showed signs of a generally poor diet.
Garibaldi was as irreverent as ever. "Now THOSE people need one of Stephen's food plans."
"They're lucky to be alive. And they've got a lot ahead of them. America wasn't friendly to the first settlers." Sheridan was lost in thought. He pointed. "Captain John Smith." A man was walking ahead of the others, exploring.
"They're shorter than I imagined," Ivanova said thoughtfully.
"We've been growing taller as our diet and environment improves." Sheridan supplied.
"You've become quite the history teacher," Ivanova commented drily.
"I had to put in the research. I wanted to get this right. Anyway, I've always been a history buff."
"I know, I remember your good luck speech. Lincoln, wasn't it?"
"Computer, next scene." Sheridan smiled at her and they found themselves in a small group of people in what was clearly the remnants of a battlefield that had been hastily made respectable. There were a lot of crosses all around. "Gettysberg. The Civil War was a bit too important to me to gloss over it, and I wanted to hear the Gettysberg address for myself."
Someone was droning on and the crowd looked bored.
"I thought Lincoln was supposed to be a good speaker?"
"That's not him. It's a senator who went on for well over an hour. He's just finishing, but in the hubbub afterwards Lincoln's speech was almost missed because it was so short. That's him." Sheridan pointed as a tall man with an oddly high black hat on and a frock coat stood up and began to address the crowd. They were close enough to hear him but it was clear most of the crowd weren't even aware he'd started speaking. The chatter died down and they could hear the words.
"We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come here to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract."
"He's good," Michael nodded in support of his comment.
Ivanova looked at Sheridan and edged closer. "Captain, are you OK?"
Sheridan nodded, but his eyes sparkled with suppressed tears. "I'm fine. It never ceases to get to me, though."
"He's a hero of yours, isn't he?"
"Yeah, and after all he did and all he wanted to do, he never got to see the end of it. He deserved better. Even twenty years..." Ivanova squeezed his arm and he smiled down at her. "I'm OK."
"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. That from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth." Lincoln's words ended and Sheridan shook his head.
"Computer, next scene," he said, clearing his throat.
They were at a lull in a battle and a man was walking among his soldiers while discussing something with the officers who walked with him.
"Who's that?" Garibaldi asked.
"My ancestor, Philip Sheridan. I thought Delenn might appreciate a bit of family history."
"You're ancestor was a Union officer in the US Civil War?" Garibaldi sounded impressed.
"Yep. Not a bad one, either. Not as good as Sherman or Lee or Grant, but he did his bit. Computer, next scene."
And so it went on. Sheridan had included stuff about the world wars but he'd limited the details and concentrated on the rebuilding and forging of new alliances in the aftermath. Man's first steps into space were well covered, the first lunar colonies and then those on Mars, as well as the first contact with the Centauri and the development of interstellar travel. Then there was a pause in the program.
Sheridan nodded and turned to his companions. "Well?"
Ivanova coughed. "Uh, John, it's fascinating, but you're not going to spend your whole honeymoon walking through history are you?"
"Uh, no. But the rest is a little personal," he demurred.
"There's a whole lot more you could show her. What about Galileo and things like the Sistine Chapel? Or even the Ancient Greeks?"
"If you're going to say that you might as well mention that Russian history has been rather ignored," Ivanova added.
"I had to pick and choose. I wanted something personal to me. Something which would give her some idea of my past and where I came from."
"Ancient Egypt?" Garibaldi raised an eyebrow.
"I couldn't pass on the only remaining wonder of the ancient world still standing. I can take Delenn to these places, show her some of these things and they're still there. Next time we go to Earth she'll have a whole load of stuff she can call on to give her some idea of where she's at and what happened there. She can explore the rest of human history if she wants to." Sheridan was a little nonplussed. This wasn't the reaction he'd expected. Ivanova noted his look and was quick to reassure him.
"John, it's stunning. Really. And if it doesn't knock her socks off I don't know what will. And I'm sure the rest of it, whatever you've got in mind, will be just as wonderful. When you've finished, can I use this program? I'd love to explore some of this in more detail."
"Sure. That's the idea." Sheridan's enthusiasm was slowly seeping back. Garibaldi chimed in to reinforce it.
"Me too, if you don't mind. It was really impressive. Like really being there. I can honestly say I've heard Lincoln give the Gettysberg address. That's quite a claim."
"Captain, are you going to go straight through all this or give her a break?"
"We can take a break any time she wants. And if she doesn't want to see it all, well, that's fine too," Sheridan didn't sound totally convinced and Ivanova hurried to reassure him.
"John, she's going to love it. Trust me on this." She paused and then added, "After she finishes yelling at you for stopping her from making any appointments for next week."
"Yeah, well, I'm hoping she's going to forgive me for that one." He yawned. "Well, it's getting late, uh, early. I should get some sleep. I didn't manage to get much before because I was thinking about this."
"Would you mind if I stayed here for a bit and ran through some of it again? I'd like to check out a few bits in more detail."
Sheridan grinned, his enthusiasm well and truly restored. "Sure. Look. Computer, show timeline." A glowing line appeared in front of them, hovering above the grid at chest height. The times they'd visited were marked out in red but there were several more in yellow. "All the ones highlighted are accessible. I added a few more I thought Delenn might be interested in if we have time, but you've seen the main lot. All you do is tap the place on the time line you want to visit and there you are."
"Nice piece of work," said Garibaldi, admiringly. "Yours?"
"Yep, all mine." Sheridan's chest swelled with pride. Ivanova grinned.
"Duly impressed, Captain. You get some sleep. We'll shut this down when we're finished."
"No need. When you leave it'll shut down and save automatically. After that you won't be able to re-access it until after I've finished with it. I wanted to make sure no one spoiled the surprise. So keep quiet about what you've seen, OK?"
"You've got it. Goodnight, Captain. And thanks. I enjoyed this."
Sheridan nodded to Garibaldi and was surprised to receive a brisk hug from Ivanova.
"She's going to love it, John. It's wonderful!"
"Thanks. Good night you two." He turned away and the door opened. Behind him he could hear Garibaldi.
"OK, now, where was that pie stall again?"
Ivanova swatted him and they both bent their attention to the timeline. Satisfied, Sheridan left and returned to his quarters to sleep the sleep of the exhausted but happy.
"John." She hugged him briefly as he met her at customs and then pulled back, a sour look on her face. "What is going on? I have not been able to make any appointments for next week and I have a lot of meetings I need to attend." Delenn was not happy.
"I know, I know. Look, come back to my quarters and I'll explain it all to you." He put his arm around her and guided her from the customs hall, refusing to answer any of her questions until they were alone. Finally, realising she wasn't going to get anything out him, Delenn acquiesced and allowed him to lead the way, but she kept looking up at him. The broad grin he was trying to smother was intriguing her even though she was still annoyed at having her schedule mucked around. /What is he up to?/ she thought to herself.
When they reached his quarters she was surprised to see a suitcase on the floor.
"John, where are you going?"
"Better, where are WE going." His grin was broad but she refused to fall for it. Sheridan's instant smile had got her on a number of occasions, but some of the meetings she had in mind were very important and she wasn't going to take just any explanation. It was going to have to be very good to convince her. She put her hands on her hips and stared at him. He raised his hands. "OK, OK. Don't look at me like that. Sit down, please." She remained standing and he put his hands on her shoulders and guided her to a chair. "Please? It won't take a minute to explain, and if you don't like the idea I'll not push it. All right?"
She sat down and waited. He started to pace. Suddenly he wasn't quite sure how to say it. He had one shot at selling this to her and she wasn't in the most approachable mood.
"Well? I'm waiting."
He nodded and sat down opposite her. "Delenn, what day is it next Wednesday?"
"Our wedding anniversary," she replied promptly. He raised his eyebrows.
"Of course. Didn't you?"
"Well yes, that's what all this is about."
"You're not telling me you cancelled my appointments for the entire week because of our wedding anniversary?"
"Delenn, it's our first!"
"I know, and I was hoping we could have a nice meal somewhere, a stroll in the gardens afterwards, and then back to my place for a nightcap."
"That is your word for it, is it not?"
He was at a loss. She was so matter-of-fact. This wasn't what he was expecting. He decided to try again. He took her hand in both of his, stroking the back of it with his thumb. "Look. Something like that was what I had in mind, but not here. Well, not exactly." He took a deep breath. "I wanted to do something special. Something very special. We never really got a honeymoon and, well, I missed it. Neither of us has had any time of to speak of since I came aboard four years ago. I don't know about you, but I need a break, and not just one evening or one day. I was thinking a week..."
"A week?! John that's not possible!"
"No it isn't. We're not indispensable."
"I have at least a dozen meetings scheduled for next week. Or they would be if you'd only let me into my computer."
"But Delenn, listen..."
She carried on, over-riding him. "There are peace treaties that have to be worked out, trade agreements, there have been a few border skirmishes with raiders I want the White Star fleet to look into. As head of the Anlashok I have duties to perform..."
Sheridan stood up and paced. "Duty! Always duty! Well, you know, Delenn, I'm sick of duty. I've been on duty since the day I put on this uniform and I reckon I've earned some leave."
"John, you chose to put on that uniform. And you chose to stay here. You have responsibilities and so do I."
"To hell with my responsibilities! What about my responsibility as your husband? I've been shirking that one since the day we got married. We have to grab a few minutes here and there. The only time I can guarantee to see you is when we're both so tired we can't do anything about it."
"Perhaps next year..."
"No!" He squatted down in front of her. "Not next year, because next year we'll say maybe NEXT year, and the same the year after. We have to make time for ourselves. We haven't got much as it is." Delenn gasped. He never referred to his limited time. That he did so now was the most powerful indication she could have that this meant a lot to him. But she had so much that needed to be done. She couldn't just up and leave.
"Perhaps we could take a couple of days..."
"No. A week. I want a week with you, Delenn. Not a week of sharing you with this station and a dozen ambassadors who only do what they do because you keep prodding them."
"Which is precisely why I cannot leave. If I do they will stop and it will be hard to get them going again." She hated to say it, but she honestly couldn't see a way out.
Sheridan was devastated. All his hard work, all that effort because he loved her, and it was all going to waste because of a group of people who wouldn't agree on principle to anything unless they were badgered, goaded and outwitted. He tried his last card. "Please, Delenn. We need this time. I need this time. I've made sure you're free, and I've got people covering for me. I don't know when we'll be able to do this again."
"John, I wish I could. I do love you, you know that, but I cannot do this. Not now. Perhaps later..."
"Fine!" He stood up, his frustration and anger boiling over. "If you can't take the time for me -- for *us* -- then I'll go on my own. I've worked to get a break and I'm damned well going to take it. Enjoy your meetings. I'll see you next week!" And with that he grabbed the suitcase and left the room without a backward glance.
"John?" But the door closed without a pause. Delenn was left staring at the metal.
"Computer, initiate program Delenn. Authorisation John J. Sheridan, password Obsidian Nachas Duvena." He snapped out the words as he dumped his bag in the corner and shut the door behind him.
"Password accepted. Beginning program."
"Computer, before you begin, a few details." And Sheridan reeled off a whole slew of little things that Delenn did that would add the necessary features to the holographic version. The computer accepted the list, all except one which he couldn't describe in sufficient detail for it to understand, and there was a short pause as it updated the program. Then it initiated and there, before him, was Delenn. But not a Delenn who had a busy work schedule and didn't, apparently, want to spend time with him. This Delenn would be there when he needed her. And right now he did.
"John. What's wrong? You're angry." She ran to him and reached up to stroke his face. He pulled her into a fierce hug and buried himself in her neck, smiling grimly when she let out the hum he'd missed so much before. She held him tight but there was a nervousness in her that communicated itself to him through her arms. He pulled back and looked at her for a moment before walking away.
"Computer, I need a room. No, a table and chairs outside. Grass, a garden, and somewhere that provides alcohol. I need a drink! And no other guests. Apart from a waiter and Delenn I want to be alone."
"One moment please."
The venue appeared. Sheridan pulled up a chair and sat down. The waiter duly arrived and hurried away to fetch the bottle of whiskey and the glass Sheridan ordered. Delenn sat down nervously opposite him. She reached out and touched his hand.
"John? This isn't like you. What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Everything." He sighed and then turned to her. "I wanted to do something special. I worked my ass off and now..." he threw up his hands in despair. "I don't know why I bothered." He looked at her and a small half smile struggled onto his face. "I just want to spend some time alone with you. Is that too much to ask?"
"No," she smiled. "I'd like that. We do not get enough time together. You always have meetings, so do I."
He stood up smartly. "Exactly! Exactly my point! But would she listen? No!"
"Would who listen?"
The whiskey arrived and Sheridan poured a large glass and downed it in one, refilling the glass immediately. Delenn stood up and moved towards him. Tenderly she reached out and touched his arm.
"John. I'm here. Whatever it is we can talk about it."
He swallowed the second glass full and slammed it down on the table, making Delenn jump. "No, no more talking. I'm sick of talking. I'm sick of cajoling and arguing and trying to outwit them. I'm sick of being polite when I want to bang their heads together. I'm sick of being woken in the middle of the night to deal with some problem. I'm sick of having to plan my life around everyone else. I'm sick of everything."
"Perhaps I should leave..."
"No!" he shouted, and then modified his tone. "No," he said again quietly. "Not you. I want you here. That's the whole point. I'm sorry."
He sat down heavily and Delenn stood behind him, putting her arms around his neck. He took her hand and raised it to his lips, kissing it gently before leaning his cheek against it. She bent down and kissed his head.
"It's all right John. I'm here. We can talk or do whatever you want."
"Yeah, I know." He smiled sadly. This Delenn would talk to him. Would understand, because she'd been programmed to. And right now, that was good enough.
"Delenn? What are you doing here? I thought you and the Captain would be off on your honeymoon." Ivanova stared as Delenn entered C&C.
"Commander. I need to talk. In private if you don't mind."
"Sure. Lieutenant, you're in charge 'til I get back."
"Yes, Commander." Corwin stepped out from behind his console and took up Ivanova's position as she left the command deck and headed for Sheridan's office. Once there she offered Delenn a seat and then sat behind the desk.
"So, what's wrong?"
"I don't know. Everything. I do not understand. John must see I cannot simply up and leave my responsibilities on a whim. I know it's our anniversary but I have too much to do."
Instantly Ivanova understood. She winced inside. She knew how Sheridan would have reacted, but Delenn was clearly distraught and confused.
"You turned him down, didn't you?"
"I do not even know WHAT I turned down. He said he wanted to take a week off. Commander, you of all people must realise it is simply not possible."
"Really? I know John worked hard to make sure your schedule would be free."
"Yes, and he did that without consulting me."
"Perhaps he wanted to give you a surprise," Ivanova said carefully.
"One day, for our anniversary. This I could understand. But I cannot spare a week..."
"Delenn," Ivanova sighed. She wanted to keep John's surprise, but at this rate it was going to be a total failure. She couldn't allow that. They'd both earned a break, and John had worked so hard to make it perfect for the woman he loved. It almost broke Ivanova's heart to see all that effort gone to waste. "Look, I know it was a bit....impromptu. And I know it was inconvenient. But there are times when Humans like to do something nice, something special for someone they love. And when they do that they like to make it a surprise. I don't want to spoil it for you or the Captain, but I know he's been working really hard this past week to give you something very special. He's been up every night working on it. He's missed meals, he's come into C&C tired but he's kept going even when we told him he could take a break because he knew he was handing the reigns over to us for a week and he didn't want to make us do any more. He's had Draal helping him out. Hell, he even managed to twist Londo around his little finger, though I'm damned if I know how he did it. It means a lot to him Delenn. Is there no way you can manage it?"
"Commander!" It was Delenn's turn to sigh. "I love him very dearly, but he cannot do this. I have too much to do."
"Look, why don't we take a look at that schedule of yours, huh? If we really can't move anything around then I'll go and talk to the Captain."
"I thought he had gone off station?"
"Well, not exactly. He's still here, he's just...incommunicado."
"Not available," Ivanova translated. "Come on. Let's take a look at that schedule of yours."
Together they considered the list Delenn had on a pad she carried around with her.
"Well, I know that meeting's off for a start. The Hyach Ambassador got called away yesterday and won't be back for at least a week."
"But he didn't tell me. He was supposed to be meeting me to discuss a trade agreement."
"Yes, but there's a problem on his planet right now. He'll be back. He probably just forgot to inform you. Now, let's take a look at the others." Another pause and Ivanova nodded. "And that one's out too."
"The Pak'ma'ra? Why?"
"Somebody fed him some fish in his supper last night. It's upset his system. He's not allowed contact with anyone else until he's completely clear. Not just on Franklin's orders. There's some kind of Pak'ma'ra injunction on contact with others after fish. It's considered unclean or something and so disrespectful. He won't show. Now then....What about this one?"
"That is a border dispute. They wanted me to mediate."
"I mean, couldn't anyone else do it? Why does it have to be you? Do they want Ranger intervention?"
"Do they need Minbari support?"
"Then why you? Why not the Brakiri Ambassador? He's quite good at that sort of thing, and it's on his borders."
"I am supposed to meet him afterwards to tell him what's happened."
"Delenn, I hate to tell you this, but they're taking advantage of you. They can sort this out for themselves. It just gives them kudos to be able to say you mediated it."
Ivanova stared. Delenn truly had no idea of the high esteem in which she was held. "It just does, trust me on this. But they can sort it out. It's not that big a deal. They just have to sit down and talk instead of posturing and showing off. They want some attention, that's all. I can deal with them. Now, this one I think would be a follow up to that one, and since that one's out of the question because the Ambassador's gone home that one's out too. And Londo can damn well wait. He knows what's going on with the Captain anyway. The supplies I can handle, so that just leaves this Minbari one. Can that be done today?"
Delenn's head was spinning. Her week's itinerary had just been blasted in less than ten minutes. Dazed she said "Yes, I think so."
"Good. Then call them and arrange the meeting to be held here in, what, thirty minutes? If they can't get their act together by then they can wait. It can't be that important. And while you're talking to them I'll get Lennier to pack your bags."
"Commander, what about this one with the Earth President?"
"Not a problem. President Luchenko is up to her ears in the Mars Independence agreement. She only squeezed you in because she was being polite. She'd be delighted to be put off."
"You arrange that meeting." Ivanova turned to go.
"Commander! This is absurd. It is a wedding anniversary. A week is too much. Even if these meetings are off there are others I had to move because of these that I should deal with."
"Don't you want to spend time with John?"
"Yes, of course, but..."
Ivanova sat down and gave Delenn a long look which silenced her with its seriousness. "Delenn, let me explain something to you. John loves you very much. He will, probably, forgive you for this given time, but you and I both know time is something he's not loaded with. And he needs to grab every chance he gets for himself. He could have left Earthforce but he stuck with it because he's a good man and he knew Babylon 5 needed a strong commander who understood this place. It's a unique situation and these are unsettled times. It says a lot that he was willing to carve out a week from all that to spend with you. He's not just done it for himself. He's done it for you too." Ivanova thought back to the tears in Sheridan's eyes as he listened to Lincoln's speech and the words he'd muttered afterwards. She knew what was going on. "He wants to leave you with good times to remember. Special moments. Twenty years of meetings doesn't cut it. And I think you both need a break. People are starting to take you both for granted. They assume you'll always clean up after their mess. That you'll always be here for them. They have to learn to stand on their own. A week without you two will remind them, maybe wake them up a bit. It's not too long in a lifetime, and it's certainly not too long in John's. You'll never drive him away, Delenn. He loves you too much for that. But can you afford to lose him even for so short a time as this? I drove Marcus away, and now I've lost my chance forever. You don't have forever. The meetings can wait. This can't."
Delenn took a deep breath and put the data-pad down. Again the reminders. First Sheridan, now Ivanova. They were right, the meetings could wait. "Susan. Where is he? And what is this place that it is so special?"
"I can't tell you much because I don't want to spoil it, but it's a place that recreates whatever you want. And right now, John wants you, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to find he's using the program of you Garibaldi made."
"There is a program of me?" Delenn was a little nonplussed.
"I think it started as an exercise, then became something more. John only used it once and then he started working on this holiday for you two. The program would have done whatever he wanted, but he didn't want a program, he wanted you."
"All right, Commander. You win. I will go. You had better tell Lennier what it is I will need. John left without telling me enough to know what was going on." Delenn considered for a few seconds. "And is there a way of over-riding John's commands to this....whatever it is without him knowing? If he is using this program of me I would like to surprise him." Ivanova looked askance at Delenn. "Minbari can arrange surprises too, you know."
Ivanova smiled, nodded, and went in search of Lennier.
Sheridan was still talking to Delenn, but they had left the garden and were now walking in the countryside provided by the machine. With his modifications the new Delenn was so close to the real thing he'd almost forgotten it was a program and he was laughing and joking with her as if she was real. As they walked along the side of a river he spotted a fish leap out of the water.
"Delenn, did you see that?"
"There, look." His voice had dropped to a whisper and he pulled her close to point out the spot. After a little while an insect settled on the water. "Shh. Watch now," he said before she could repeat her question. The fish leapt up and snapped at the insect before plopping back into the water. "There! Did you see it?" She nodded and smiled, hugging him close. The day was hot and, pulling away briefly, she shrugged off her outer tunic and laid it over her arm before taking his once more. He nodded. "Good idea," and he started to unbutton his jacket. He'd been in such a hurry he hadn't changed into his casual clothes before entering the Holography room. He was even still wearing his PPG. Delenn turned and took over, pulling the jacket from his trousers before he could protest. He smiled, remembering a time long ago when she had helped him to do up that self same jacket because his arm had been injured in a fight and he was having trouble lifting it. He closed his hand over hers as she unfastened the hooks.
"Delenn, I've been undressing myself for a long time now," he said in memory of that day.
"I know, but I want to," she smiled and made to continue, but he pulled her hand away and bent down to kiss her. She raised her face to his and he brushed her lips tentatively with his own before pressing more firmly. She responded immediately, putting her arms around his neck and leaning into the kiss.
He revelled in the moment, even though it reminded him she was not real, and then pulled away, indicating a patch of grass a little way back from the river. "Let's sit down," he suggested.
He finished removing his jacket and folded it, with his PPG and link on top, on the grass. They sat and admired the river in silence for a while. Sheridan found a small stone in the earth and prised it free, throwing it expertly to land in the middle of the water. The rings were quickly extinguished by the flow of water and he considered it for a moment before sighing and leaning back in the grass, his hands folded behind his head. "Ahh, this is more like it," he sighed and closed his eyes. Delenn smiled down at him.
Garibaldi was standing by the door when Delenn arrived.
"Is he in there?" she asked.
"He is. And there are programs running. Ah, I don't know if anyone's told you this but..."
Delenn smiled. "Commander Ivanova told me there's a program of me. Is it running as well?"
Garibaldi slipped his security card in and over-rode the privacy lock-out to check the program. "Yeah, it's running."
Delenn frowned. "Can anyone do that?"
"Nope. Only me and the Commander. Just in case of an emergency. Don't worry. We won't disturb you unless we absolutely have to. To everyone else this place is completely off-limits for the whole week."
"Good. Can you let me in?"
"Sure thing." He activated the door and it slid open to reveal the river bank. Delenn could see Sheridan and her double on the grass. He was lying back, his eyes closed, if not asleep then dozing. Her double was sitting beside him watching the river and him with equal interest.
Delenn turned to Garibaldi. "Can you shut her down without letting John notice?" she whispered.
Garibaldi pressed a few buttons and the double disappeared. "Done and done," he grinned.
"Then I will see you next week." Delenn stepped into the room and the door closed behind her, disappearing to be replaced with landscape. For a moment she stood and took in the miracle around her. A bee buzzed past and she could hear a bird high up above her; a dot in the blue sky whose voice seemed to carry for miles. Dropping her bag she slowly walked over to Sheridan, removing her tunic as she noticed the other Delenn had already done. Carefully she placed it on the ground and settled down beside him. He sighed but his eyes remained closed. Smiling she gently traced her fingers along his jaw-line.
"Hmm, that's nice," he muttered. Opening his eyes he caught her hand and kissed it. She leaned down and returned the kiss. As their lips met and his tongue gently pushed into her mouth she saw his eyes widen in surprise. One thing he'd never been able to do was describe how Delenn tasted accurately enough for the computer to recreate it. Yet suddenly... "Delenn?" He pulled back and stared at her. She grinned.
"Is it you?"
"I believe so."
"I mean the real you?"
"Is there another?" she teased.
He sat up. "Computer. End Delenn simulation."
"That program is no longer running."
The simple, unemotional statement sent a thrill through him. "It IS you!" He caught her in his arms and rolled her over, kissing her passionately in his delight. His heart soared as she hummed in pleasure in response to his touch. He undid the top of her dress and slid it aside to reveal her shoulder. He kissed along it and then pulled back, smiling down at her.
"You changed your mind."
"I wasn't given much choice. Commander Ivanova made it quite clear to me that my meetings could wait. John, I'm sorry. I did want to spend time with you, I just didn't realise how much time I had," she reached up and stroked his face, "And how little," she added, a slight catch in her voice.
He nodded gently and considered her. He wanted to make love to her but not here. He knew the place. Standing up he pulled her to her feet. "I have something to show you," he said in response to her quizzical look. "Computer, begin program Sheridan two."
The river bank was replaced by the forest. He smiled at her gasp of surprise and let her stare into the forest for a while before turning her slowly to see the waterfall.
"John! It's beautiful. Where is this?"
"It's a place on Earth. I'll take you there one day. Come with me." He took her hand and led her down the steep hillside to the edge of the gorge. The heat of the day warmed them until beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. Keeping her on the inside to keep her safe he guided her towards the source of the flow, watching the droplets form in her hair and on her clothes. She swept her dampening hair from her face. He revelled in the cool water.
"My dress will be ruined!" she pouted. He didn't pause but led her on. She looked back. "My case! Where is it?"
"It's still there, it's just being hidden by the computer. It'll be there when you want it," he reassured her. Still he walked on. The spray was running down his face but he didn't stop.
"John, this is ridiculous. I'm soaked!"
He turned around and held her. "Then we're close enough," he said and he began to undo her dress. Realising what he had in mind she shook her head and smiled, undoing the three buttons on his undershirt and helping him to pull it over his head. He kicked off his shoes as she undid his belt. The water formed droplets that glistened on his skin and then ran together. Stepping out of his trousers he bent down and pulled off his shorts and socks. He gathered the lot together and looked up. "Computer, dry all the clothes and put them out of reach of the waterfall." He tossed them in the direction of the wall and they disappeared. Delenn stared and then followed his example. Standing naked together in the spray he sighed as she traced the line down the centre of his chest and then wrapped her arms around him. She rested her head against his chest under his chin and he held her tightly, stroking his hands over her back. This was more like it. He wasn't usually the 'back-to-nature' type, but this felt right. Stepping away he eased her down to the ground and began to explore her body with his hands and lips. She arched beneath him as his lips brushed over her skin and sent tingles through her body. He covered her body with his own and she pulled his head down so she could kiss away the water running down his cheeks. He rolled her over so she was on top of him and his heart leapt as she leaned back on her heels and swept her hair out of her face. The water followed the line of her breasts and he reached up to stroke the nipples. She caught his hands and pressed them to her, guiding him over her body as she stretched back and revelled in the freedom. He admired her openly, his body responding urgently to her movements. He pulled her down again and sought her mouth.
For a while their tongues explored each other, and then he rolled her over once more and gently parted her legs. He reached between them and stroked her, feeling the cool water of the falls merging with the hot liquid of her arousal. She stroked her hands down his body and urged him into her, raising her hips to ease his passage. Practice had made their love-making a symphony of perfectly attuned movements. Each could read the other's needs and wants without a word being spoken. His stroke was slow but sure, pressing more deeply into her on each thrust. His hands stimulated her body and she writhed beneath him, stimulating him further in turn with her own movements. He put his hands under her buttocks and angled her so his penis rubbed against her clitoris on each stroke. Their movements became more urgent as the point of release neared, their touches more impassioned and desperate. As they came together the roar of the waterfall drowned out the cries of their lovemaking.
Afterwards he buried his head in her breasts, feeling her inner muscles gripping him as he withdrew. He lay alongside her and pulled her close. The cooling water was now growing cold as the afternoon sun dipped and the heat of their exertions cooled. With a sigh he tucked her head under his chin and looked up.
"Computer. Run program, Sheridan Three."
The waterfall and countryside was replaced with a log fire in a cabin at night. They were lying in front of the hearth, the heat from the fire quickly warming their now dry bodies. The firelight danced across their skin and in their eyes. The thick fur of the rug and the deep carpet beneath cushioned and added to the warmth. Holding her close he closed his eyes and sighed. It just didn't get any better than this.
They slept soundly for some time. When Delenn opened her eyes Sheridan was still asleep. Carefully easing herself from his arms she got to her knees and smiled as he rolled over. Slowly she got up and explored the room.
"Computer," she whispered, "Where are our bags and clothes?"
The computer, responding to the low level of her voice, muted its reply. "Your bags and clothes are in the corner to your left." Delenn nodded and walked over. Picking up her dress and bag she headed for the bedroom. She still marvelled at the way the computer could work out where stuff had to be and made it disappear when it wasn't wanted. Returning to the lounge she noted that Sheridan was still sleeping and picked up his things to stow them with her own. Back in the bedroom she looked up.
"Computer, when we are elsewhere, I mean, when we're in another program, where do you put our things?"
"You are now standing near the wall," the computer replied, revealing a yellow grid where the window had been before. "When other programs are run this part of the room is kept separate by force-fields. You cannot run into it as the force-fields constantly update your position and perspective, while the holographic display keeps these objects hidden until they are required."
The grid was obscured once more by the window and log wall and Delenn reached out to touch it. The wood felt like wood and the glass of the window was cold to her touch. She looked out and saw it was snowing outside. She shook her head.
"Amazing," she muttered. She felt two hands press themselves to her shoulders and she jumped slightly before relaxing against his touch. Turning her head she met his lips and smiled before returning her consideration to the snow falling in a steady flow outside.
"Yes, it is," he said, putting his arms around her waist and pulling her against his chest. "Now you see why I wanted you here." She nodded but continued to gaze out of the window.
"Where are we now?"
"It's a mix of places. No where in particular. A bit of Canada and North America for the house, but the landscape outside is probably closer to Switzerland. I just made it up."
"I like your imagination."
"I'm glad. We can explore tomorrow, or you can see the other program I wrote for you." His hands roved over her skin sending tingles through her body. She gently closed her hands over his to still his movements.
"Is there some food here?"
"There is. Are you hungry?"
"Very. I haven't eaten since last night, and the food on the White Stars leaves something to be desired."
He grunted and led her to the kitchen, the padding of their feet barely making a sound on the wooden floors that took over once they entered the room. The cupboard and 'fridge were a little bare and Delenn looked at Sheridan curiously.
"What would you like?" he smiled. "The computer can recreate whatever you want. I've given it samples of things like Flarn so it gets it right. There's a slot that you put the sample in. It analyses it, works out the chemical constituents and molecular structure, and then recreates it."
"It's like magic!" she exclaimed. "Where does all the power come from?"
"Um, well normally the station's fusion reactor has enough power for the place, but given we're going to be eating and living in here for a week I ask Draal to help us out. He was more than happy to oblige. Apparently he thought you needed a break as well." He gave her a long, hard look and she dropped her shoulders and nodded.
"All right, the point has been made." She shook her head. "Everyone seems determined to make me forget my responsibilities for a week."
"Sometimes we have to. The others have to learn we won't always be around to bail them out of whatever mess they get themselves into. They've come to rely on us too much."
"That's what Commander Ivanova said," she muttered thoughtfully.
He watched her for a minute and then gently brought her back to the present. "So, what do you want to eat? Name it."
"Hmm. Anything I like?"
"Anything you like."
The menu was ordered and Sheridan had the computer lay out the dinner on a table in the dining room while they went into the bedroom and put on some clothes. He grabbed a t-shirt and some running shorts while she picked out a simple dress which she pulled over her head. While she was struggling with getting her arms into the sleeves he stepped forward and kissed her still exposed breasts. Gasping at his touch she pulled her head through and batted him.
"John, I thought we agreed we were going to eat!" she said.
"You agreed," he muttered, his mouth working its way down her body. "I didn't." She pulled the dress down and pushed him away. He stepped back, feigning displeasure. "Spoilsport!"
"Later. Right now I'm hungry."
He pulled her to him and kissed her throat. "Hmm. So am I," he chuckled.
"The food will get cold!" she protested.
"The computer can keep it hot for us." He edged her backwards towards the bed. "This is our honeymoon, remember?"
"As if I'd forget!" she laughed as she fell back and bounced slightly on the mattress. The so recently donned clothing was quickly discarded as laughter gave way to the sounds of other pleasures.
Afterwards they returned to the dining room and ate as though they hadn't seen food in a month. When they were done he told her, without spoiling the details, of the main program he'd worked out. She listened attentively, nodding as he explained he'd done it because he thought she might like a better understanding of human history.
"I would like that very much." She reached over and covered his hand with her own. "But whatever you had planned would be fine, so long as you are with me. I am sorry I was so difficult earlier."
He shrugged. "That's OK." He was happy now, his earlier anger and disappointment forgotten.
She looked at him hard. "You could have had any woman you wanted to talk to when you came in here. Yet you chose me. And after all I had done to upset you."
"Of course." He sounded surprised. "You're my wife!"
"And you would not have any other, even if you could?"
"Why would I want to? You're everything I could ever want." He grinned and edged his chair backwards. "'Though now you come to mention it, there are some things that other Delenn might try that you wouldn't be interested in. I wonder..." He didn't get to finish the sentence as she leaned forward and smacked him. He laughed and patted his knee. "Come here."
"I'm not sure I want to, knowing you would rather be with a computerised woman, doing who knows what!" She turned in her chair and folded her arms, staring at the window.
"Delenn," he reached over and pulled on her arm, "Come here!" She fought for a moment and then let herself be dragged onto his lap. "Have you any idea how much I love you?"
"I think so, but you may keep on showing me, for as long as you like." She cupped her hands around his face and bent to kiss him. He hummed quietly before pulling back.
"I plan to." He tried to stifle a yawn but he couldn't quite manage it.
"You're tired, we should tidy up and go to bed."
"No need," he grinned. "Computer, clear away the dinner." The table was instantly cleared. He looked at her. "Would you like some coffee or something?"
"Some Kios would be nice." Kios was a non-alcoholic Minbari drink usually consumed after dinner. Sheridan nodded. He knew she liked it and he's duly programmed the computer to recreate it.
"Computer, a glass of Kios and I think I'll take a brandy. Standard version." She shook her head as the glasses appeared. "Wine with dinner, brandy afterwards. Much more alcohol and your breath will be dangerous to me!"
"Then you'll have to kiss me somewhere else," he grinned and motioned her off his lap. Picking up his glass he walked through to the lounge, Delenn following, and the two settled down on a settee in front of the fire. It crackled in the grate and for a while they sat silently, watching the play of firelight on the logs and in each other's faces. He put his arm on the back of the settee and she snuggled into his embrace. They continued to sip their drinks in silence. No words were needed. They knew each other too well for that. When he was done with his drink he yawned, stretched and stood up, holding out his hand. "Time for bed, I think. We've got a lot to see in the morning. Computer, wake us up in about eight hours. Oh, and you can shut down everything but the bedroom and the bathroom while we're asleep to conserve energy."
Delenn shook her head, still in awe of this amazing program, and finished her drink. Together they walked to the bedroom, shutting the door behind them.
The next day Sheridan woke before Delenn and quietly donned clothes before leaving the bedroom and going to the wall interface. Taping in a code he got Draal.
"Ah, Captain! And how was your evening?"
"Wonderful, thanks. How are we doing on the energy front?"
"Fine, fine. Your dinner and drinks afterwards took up a bit more than usual but the Machine can compensate. Enjoy yourselves. You've earned a break."
"I don't want to exhaust your generosity."
"No fear of that, Captain. You have done much for both myself and everyone else. It is time we repaid you in kind. Give Delenn my love. Perhaps I could join you at some point? I really am most impressed with the recreation of your ancient Egyptian civilisation."
"I'll call you when we get there."
"No need. The machine keeps me up to date with what you are doing."
Sheridan gulped. "Um, Draal...?"
"Do not worry. I am beyond those things now. I am glad to see you both happy. Your secrets are quite safe with me."
"Glad to hear it," Sheridan muttered, not entirely mollified.
"Captain, have fun! It is a wonderful idea you have had. Delenn will love it, I assure you. Now go back to her. She will wonder where you are. And you will need the rest of the house." The building instantly reappeared. Sheridan looked around surprised. "It was thoughtful of you to shut it down, but there was really no need. I will see you later." And the screen winked out to be replaced by the wall.
"Hmph!" Sheridan snorted and turned around. "Computer, breakfast in the dining room if you please. Standard fare." He saw the meal appear on the table and gave a satisfied nod before walking into the bedroom. Gently he shook the still sleeping Delenn. "Come on, sleepy head. Time to get up."
She sighed and stretched. "I did not hear the computer wake us up. What time is it?"
He bent down and kissed her. "Time for breakfast. It's all laid out in the dining room."
She yawned. "Another hour. I'm still tired from yesterday." She rolled over and pulled the covers back over herself. He grinned and sat on the edge of the bed watching her for a moment before bending down to kiss her lightly on her cheek.
"All right. I'll be ready when you are."
It was more than an hour before Delenn appeared. She'd clearly showered and chosen a dress that was simple and practical. He nodded, pleased with her choice. His own clothes had been chosen for their comfort and he had on jeans, a shirt and a stout pair of boots. He looked down and noticed her shoes were a little thin given the conditions they would encounter.
"Computer, a pair of shoes for Delenn with thicker soles to keep out the heat. Base them on the shoes she's wearing now." The shoes promptly appeared. "The desert sands can be a little hot. Those ones will keep you from frying."
"Can't the computer tone down the heat?" she said, sitting down to put on the new shoes.
"It can, but it would spoil the effect. I tried to make it as real as possible without being dangerous."
She nodded and sat down at the breakfast table. Sheridan was reading a copy of Universe Today and she considered it as she tucked into the food. "I thought we were going to switch off what's happening outside?"
"Well, the paper isn't that big a deal. Most of this is yesterday's news anyway. And I had to do something while I waited for you to wake up."
"I had no idea I was so tired. I think I could still sleep another few hours without any trouble. You're right. I needed this."
"*We* needed this. I plan to take a siesta later." He folded the paper and drank some more coffee. "Much more like it. You know, we should use this technology all over the station. If only we could tap into an energy source."
"How are we doing this now?" she mumbled, her mouth full.
"Oh yes, I forgot. That's kind of him. I must remember to thank him when I see him next."
"I already did, but I'm sure he'll be along later."
"Did he create the software for all this?" She waved her spoon indicating the room around them.
"No, it's something Londo came across. I don't know where he got it from. Frankly, I don't care. Draal told me there were some bugs that took him a while to sort out, but it's steady as a rock now. He reckoned before he fixed it the machine would have been prone to errors if there was a power surge. Even the safety lock-outs could have been compromised."
"Reassuring," she muttered and drank some milk before wiping her mouth. "Well, I think I'm ready now. Where are we going?"
He smiled and stood up, holding out his hand. "For a trip through time. Now remember, if there's anything you don't like, or anything you want to see more of you just tell me. And when you're ready to quit just say so. We've got all week for this." She nodded and took his hand as he led her out of the front door into the snowy hillside outside. She shivered and he nodded. "Computer, initiate program Sheridan One."
"Program commencing." And the trip began.
The tour of space frightened her until Sheridan put his arms around her and reassured her it was safe. When they entered the sun she was amazed and stunned. He noticed her grip on his hand tightened and didn't relax until they got back outside and headed for Earth. She was fascinated with the African beginnings of man, but it was the animals that really drew her attention. Sheridan was quick to point out that they weren't usually quite as friendly as he'd made them, but he wanted her to be able to get close without scaring them. The elephants towered above her and she admired the graceful rocking gait of the giraffes. The birds that swooped and landed on the zebra to pick their hides free of insects enchanted her, as did the masses of butterflies that fed on a landscape of flowers which bloomed around the edge of a mighty river. Gazelle leapt fantastic heights and she was full of questions that Sheridan sometimes found himself hard pressed to answer. Occasionally he surrendered and asked the computer to fill in the names of animals and flora that escaped him. Yet Delenn never resorted to the computer but always asked him first. The hunters disturbed her slightly as they sought their prey but she was not blind to the need for food and she took the whole as an educational exercise, albeit in the end a somewhat bloody one. Sheridan reassured her.
"Don't forget this is only a recreation. Yes, things like this happened, but this isn't real, so nothing has really died this time."
"I know. It's still sad to see something so beautiful killed for food, though."
He nodded. "If it didn't taste so good I'd probably become a vegetarian, but I'd be lousy at it."
"I know. I've seen you eat those steaks you manage to sneak onto the station!"
He grinned. "Ready for the next bit?" She nodded. "Computer, next scene."
The masses of people working on the site and dragging the heavy stone blocks caused Delenn to gasp. "Are they slaves?"
"Oddly enough, I gather they're not. For a while historians thought they were, but then someone realised you couldn't order that many people if they didn't want to do it. Not to the level of precision needed to build this," and he indicated the pyramid to their left. "That one is called Cheops. The one they're building will be named after the Pharaoh now in power, a man by the name of Kephren. I think the names are different in the local language. Khafre I think was his name, Khufu for the other one. The last of the three is Mykerinos or Menkaura depending on whether you get the Greek or Egyptian version. Mind you, I don't think anyone knows how the ancient Egyptians actually spoke. The machine is using an approximation but I've no idea how accurate it is."
"You have become quite the expert," she chuckled.
"You immerse yourself in this stuff for a week and see what you learn. It's a hell of a teaching tool."
A voice spoke up behind them. "But he has worked very hard, Delenn. I think he wanted to impress you."
"Draal!" Delenn ran to her old friend, stopping just short and reaching out to place her hand on his chest before bowing. He returned the gesture and smiled.
"Isn't it wonderful?" he said, spreading his arms wide to encompass their surroundings. "I had no idea Humans did so much so long ago. And I gather these are still standing, are they not Captain?"
"Still there. A bit more battered these days, but yep, still there."
"Amazing. I should like to see it one day. So, are you enjoying yourself, Delenn?"
"I am. John seems to be determined that I do so. I had no idea how much I needed the break. And you, old friend. How are you?"
"Disgustingly fit I'm glad to say. The Machine has done wonders for me. As I am sure this small extension will do for you. And I had no idea we had so many history files. Has the Captain shown you Minbar yet?"
"Uh, Draal. I was saving that one as a surprise." Sheridan was a bit put out by Draal's stealing of his thunder.
"Oh, I do apologise. Delenn, it is wonderful. But you will see. In the mean time, let us explore this time. From my examination of the records the Captain is right. The people worked in groups during a time of the year they called the Inundation. It was when the Nile river flooded. With their homes and fields deep in the waters of the river the people came here to build monuments to their gods. Their skill is remarkable."
Delenn watched and noticed that while there seemed to be thousands of people present, relatively small groups were pulling the big blocks along the ground and up a slope which bent its way around the growing pyramid.
"They must be enormously strong. How are they doing that?"
"Ah," Sheridan grinned. He bent down and scooped up a lump of mud at their feet and rubbed it between his fingers. "This is the secret. Feel it." He held out his hand and gingerly she took the mud between her fingers and marvelled at the way her fingers slid across each other.
"What is it?"
"Wet Nile mud. Something to do with the mix of creatures and animals in there I think, but the sliding co-efficiency is close to zero. Put a bit of this under it and seven men can pull seven tons. More to drag it up hill, of course, but still it's a remarkable tool. I don't think these things could have been built without it."
"It is said by the Greek historian Herodotus that Egypt is the gift of the Nile," Draal added. "I think that is true in more ways than one."
Delenn shook her head in wonder and then bent down to rub the mud off in the sand. "Ouch, that's hot!" she exclaimed.
"I did warn you," Sheridan chuckled. He flicked the mud from his fingers and then wiped them on his trousers. "Don't worry, the machine can take it off later," he said in response to her disapproving glare.
"The people there are barefoot," Delenn said, pointing. "How can they stand the heat?"
"Thicker soles to their feet. Even today the local people who walk barefoot have extra hard skin there. Nature can adapt to almost anything."
"Can we get closer. That statue is incredible!" She pointed at the Sphinx. "Is it still there today?"
Sheridan nodded. "They had to do some pretty quick repair work a few years back when his neck got too thin to hold up his head. Wind and sand erosion was wrecking him. He's OK now."
"It's a he?"
"Well, I think so. I gather they think originally he had the head of a lion but he was adapted by the Egyptians some time ago. Now he represents a sort of cross between the Pharaoh and some mystical creature. They call it The Sphinx."
"Sphinx?" Delenn tried out the new word. "I like that." She started to walk towards it and Draal smiled and nodded to Sheridan, indicating he should precede him. Sheridan watched her walk off ahead and turned to Draal.
"I think she likes it," he said happily.
"Captain, she is enchanted. As I knew she would be." He turned serious. "May I personally thank you for looking after her? Delenn is like a daughter to me in many ways. It pleases me to know she has a man such as yourself watching over her."
Sheridan smiled. "I think it's as much the other way around. We keep an eye out for each other."
"As it should be. Come, she'll be wondering what we are plotting!" He laughed, a big, booming laugh and together they followed Delenn across the sands to the foot of the Sphinx.
She stood between its massive paws, gazing up into its face. It's eyes stared into the sun and Delenn turned and followed its gaze. Sheridan and Draal arrived and she turned to the former.
"Was it built to watch the sun rise?"
"I think so."
"How long has it been here?"
"The jury's still out on that one. Some people think he's more than ten thousand years old. Others that he's only five thousand or so."
"Only?" She shook her head and turned back to gaze up at him in awe. "What he must have seen..." she whispered.
"Three million, six hundred and fifty thousand dawns," Sheridan said, quickly doing the maths in his head. "Give or take a few, assuming the older theorists are correct," he added with a grin. He watched Delenn as she stroked her hand over the smooth limestone of one giant paw. "This was ancient when Queen Cleopatra was here. She was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world." He stepped up to her and stroked his hand across her cheek. "But I don't think she could have been more beautiful than you."
Draal smiled quietly to himself, silently observing the moment. A better pairing he'd never seen. Who would have thought twenty years ago that his pupil would one day be so happily married to a man of a species they had yet to encounter and which they would almost destroy. He shook his head. "You have an odd sense of humour," he muttered to the universe as a whole.
"Sorry, Draal. Did you say something?" Sheridan pulled back from Delenn and Draal shook his head.
"Merely talking to myself, Captain. It is something I have begun to do more and more while I explore the galaxy."
"You should visit us more often, Draal. I would be happy to listen to you." Delenn smiled.
"I would be delighted." He looked at Sheridan whose hands were resting on Delenn's shoulders. It was time for him to go. "But I have business I must attend to. I will see you again soon. Take care of yourself, Captain." He bowed and then turned to Delenn who stepped away from Sheridan and once again placed her hand on Draal's chest. "And goodbye to you, my dear. Enjoy Minbar." He bowed and she responded, then he stepped back and was gone. Delenn turned back to Sheridan. "John, I want to come back here, perhaps at night when there is no one else around, but Draal has me intrigued. What about Minbar?"
"Computer, take us to Minbar."
Delenn was a little more used to the space flight now but she still reached out to him and let him pull her close until they came into land. When she saw where they were and who was speaking her mouth opened in wonder and she turned, her eyes sparkling, to Sheridan who smiled indulgently and indicated she should go into the crowd and listen for herself.
The speech was in full swing and Sheridan saw Delenn mouthing the words along with Valen. He'd been right. She did know it off by heart. But then he knew Lincoln's speeches the same way and that didn't detract from the thrill of actually hearing them spoken. Since their appearance would have been inappropriate he'd arranged it so that they could move among the crowds without being seen as they truly were. The speech was in Minbari and, in deference to Delenn, he hadn't had it translated. As a result he could barely understand one word in ten, but he could watch the effect on the crowd and on his wife. That was enough.
As the speech drew to a close Sheridan edged closer to her, smiling at the Minbari who passed him and then bowing when he realised his actions were inappropriate. Delenn was oblivious to the crush of people around them. She was still staring at Valen who was now speaking to someone up on the dais. Without looking at Sheridan she acknowledged his presence with a nod.
"Can I speak to him?" she said, still staring.
"Draal is still working on that one. Real personalities are a lot harder to get accurate because there are so many variables. Personnel files don't really capture a person very well, so you need lots of input from various sources, and they all see the person differently, so getting them to mesh is hard. I think the answer is not right now, but I promise you I will work on it until you can. How's that?"
She nodded, still staring and Sheridan waited until Valen left the dais and went into a building. When it became obvious Delenn wasn't going to move he gently put his arms around her shoulders. "Come on. You can come back to this when I've done some more. This was all Zathras could give us of this speech. There's another one if you'd like to view it."
"There is? Yes, I should like that very much."
Sheridan nodded. "Computer, initiate program Valen two."
The venue was different. Sheridan realised this was some kind of meeting chamber, but the size was simply vast. Row upon row of Minbari lined the walls and filled the arches which rose above them to a seemingly impossible height. Delenn stepped forward and gasped as she took in her surroundings.
After a while the general background buzz quietened and the figure of Valen appeared from under one of the lower arches and walked towards the centre. In the silence even his footfalls seemed to echo. Sheridan could admire a man who could evoke so much respect and he wished he understood more Minbari. He'd like to read the transcripts of the speeches so he could understand what was being said and why it had such an effect.
He looked at Delenn and realised that here he was an alien. No one would notice because he'd ensured they fitted in, but he wondered if she felt as isolated on his world as he now felt on hers. She certainly hadn't seemed so, standing between the paws of the Sphinx. Here her expression was similar. One of awed reverence, but there was an extra element and Sheridan found himself feeling slightly uncomfortable. He knew Delenn and Sinclair had been friends, and now she was seeing him as the almost deified being he'd become, but was there more to her relationship with him than that?
Suddenly he felt the urge to leave and wait for Delenn outside. This was personal. Too personal for him to interfere. He loved her enough to know when it would be better for him to move away. He turned and tried to push his way through the crowds but someone stopped him and pointed to Valen who was now speaking. Sheridan nodded, bowed, and tried to make his way through. Again he was stopped, and the expression on the Minbari's face was less than friendly. Apparently it was considered impolite to leave one of Valen's speeches. Feeling somewhat put out Sheridan bowed again and turned back to Delenn. Clearly he wouldn't be leaving this time. He could, of course, tell the computer to pause, step outside, and ask it to resume, or even tell it to make him invisible so he could pass through the crowd without being noticed, but that would interrupt the speech and the look on Delenn's face told him he shouldn't do that. Instead he moved forward and, deciding if he was going to have to listen he'd better understand what was going on, he stepped closer to her and whispered in her ear.
"Delenn, I'm sorry, but my Minbari isn't up to this. What's he saying?"
In an equally muted whisper she explained that this speech was spoken at a time when someone had challenged Valen's authority. He was explaining his actions and asking the people to decide whether what he had done was right. She tried to capture the eloquence of his words as he explained the Minbari concept of self sacrifice and service and how he was willing to open himself to any and all who felt he had violated that code, but apparently something was lost in the translation. Sheridan nodded and waited to see what would happen. This speech had been added at Draal's suggestion because he knew Delenn would be interested, but Sheridan had been working so hard on fine tuning all the other stuff he hadn't had a chance to investigate this particular scenario, so it was as new to him as it was to her.
There was a pause and then, with a grinding noise, a window opened in the roof and a beam of light hit the floor below, sending sparks up from the ground. Whatever it was, that light was hot. The other Minbari who had issued the challenge stepped up to the light and Valen took up position opposite him. As one they stepped into the light and Delenn's hand reached blindly for Sheridan. She caught his arm and he winced as her nails dug into him. She was terrified. This wasn't what he had in mind at all.
"Delenn? Are you OK?" She nodded but all the colour had drained out of her face. "What's going on? Where is this place?"
"The Starfire Wheel. Valen has offered his own life to prove his worthiness."
"So whoever walks out wins, right?"
"No. Whoever dies."
"I thought Valen lived to a ripe old age?"
"So what happened?"
"His opponent, a warrior by the name of Morack, left the heat of the wheel before the end. He proved himself unworthy to lead our people."
"And Valen left after him, right?"
"No," there were tears in her eyes. "He wouldn't leave because he knew if he did people would think he had done it for show and had never meant his words. Someone in the crowd, a stranger, stepped up to the wheel and took Valen's place, taking the fire down on himself. We never knew his name. He did not live long enough to tell anyone and no one recognised him. He is honoured throughout Minbar. We call him Fi'veni. Roughly he who died or was killed in the star-fire."
Sheridan watched as the Starfire Wheel opened and the heat intensified. Through the shimmering haze he could see the two inside seemed to be talking, or rather yelling at each other, trying to get the words past their pain. Delenn's fingers tightened and Sheridan saw she had drawn blood on him. Why was this affecting her so? She knew he'd survive. Sheridan looked around, biting down on the pain to see if anyone was moving in the crowd, but everyone seemed caught in a trance. It was as if the air itself were holding its breath, waiting for Fi'veni to step forward and accept his fate.
The wheel opened again and Morack threw himself from the burning light, his aides rushing to cool him as smoke issued from his warrior's garb. Still no one stepped forward. Sheridan tried to relax. Valen would be safe, he had to be, and this was only a program after all. But where was Fi'veni? He found himself mulling over the name. He remembered that Dralafi was the Minbari name for the Black Star, so Star was probably the Fi bit. And he'd heard the Rangers say Iszil'zha Veni which seemed to mean 'for the sake of the future we or I die'. So the literal translation would seem to be star death. Not just death at the hands of the star, then. It could also mean the death of the star itself. She'd said died or killed, so star kill would be another way of saying it. He who was killed by, or killed the star.
Starkiller?! He was brought up short and looked around again. Still no one moved. This was ridiculous. It certainly wasn't him. He wasn't there. Couldn't have been there. This was nearly a thousand years ago. No, he was getting too caught up in it all.
The wheel opened again and Valen collapsed under the heat. Delenn was searching the crowds. "Where is he?" she muttered. She swung around looking at all those nearby and then stared at Sheridan. "Where is he?!" she repeated.
"Delenn, this isn't real, don't forget. It's just a hologram. Even if he doesn't turn up Valen won't really have been killed."
She shook her head. "This is not right. Can't you feel it? This is not the same as the other programs. This is real. Something has gone wrong. Draal? Draal what it happening?!"
Sheridan felt a tingling sensation. She was right. This *did* feel different. When he'd tried to leave he'd been prevented. He'd thought that was just a part of the program, but strictly speaking, since it was his program, he should have been able to come and go at will. He shouldn't have been forced to stay. And there was something in the air: not just the smell but the whole feel of it. He shook himself. He was imagining things. A program is a program. No matter how real there was no way he'd stepped back in time.
"Darling, I'm sorry. I'm going to stop this. Computer, end program." Nothing happened. "Computer, end program Sheridan One." Still nothing. He turned around. "Computer, show back wall." The Minbari behind remained in place. A chill went through him. Where were the so called safety over-rides?
"Draal!" Her cry was almost a shout. Sheridan looked around. There was no one to step forward. No one but he knew that someone had to. The tears were streaming down Delenn's face and she desperately searched the faces of those around her. "Someone, help him!" she screamed, but the crowd remained unmoved.
If this was a simulation, he was safe. It would switch off before it got dangerous. If it wasn't (and he still couldn't accept that), then someone had to step in or history would be changed. Either way, there seemed little choice. They were running out of time and someone had to act. Carefully he prised her hand from his arm and turned her in his arms. He pulled her to him and whispered "I love you," before striding forward and pushing aside a guard who tried to intercept him. She rushed after him.
"John, no! Not you. It cannot be you!"
He couldn't answer her. Something was propelling him forward to the light. He couldn't stop now. If he did he knew he wouldn't reach it in time. Imaginary and safe, or real and necessary. Of course there was the other option: imaginary and something had gone seriously wrong with the program, in which case he was soon going to be toast for the sake of nothing. But the amount of energy being channelled by the wheel was immense. It would burn out the circuits before it would kill him. He'd be burned, but it couldn't reach its full potential without blowing every fuse on the station. Even the Great Machine couldn't channel that much energy. It'd fry a hole in the side of the station.
He walked on until he reached the light. It was painfully bright and hot. He moved forward and was driven back by the heat. Valen was in agony on the floor, but his teeth were gritted against the pain. His eyes were closed against the brightness of the light and couldn't see his saviour. Sheridan took a deep breath and, stepping in, grabbed Valen and lifted him up. Someone ran forward and he handed the inert body out to the Minbari who mouthed something, but he couldn't understand what over the roar of the fire. The heat was intense and he realised he couldn't move. Something must have gone wrong. But what? And how was it possible? He could barely think through the pain. The wheel opened again and he fell to his knees under the onslaught. Stealing a glance he could just make out Delenn pushing against the barrier of guards who defended the perimeter. She was reaching out to him, begging him to leave, but he couldn't. He no longer had the strength to drag himself from the flame. He could feel his skin burning, smell smoke as his clothes began to ignite. The pain was intense. The wheel opened once more. There was a roar and he just heard Delenn's screamed "NO!!!!" and then silence.
When he opened his eyes Delenn was cradling him on the yellow grid and Draal was standing nearby, checking the system.
"What the hell happened?" His skin was radiating heat and he could smell burning. She held him and turned to Draal. The latter shook his head.
"Some things, it seems, are too powerful to be simulated. They must happen, even when they are merely being played out. The safety cut-out worked as it should. You are unharmed, if slightly scorched. The equivalent of a very severe sunburn I would say. How are you feeling?"
"Not as good as I felt this morning." He groaned and looked around. The baseball cap he'd been wearing was still there, smoking on the deck. He reached over and picked it up. The symbol of the Agamemnon was barely discernible through the char marks. "This is your idea of the safety working?"
"If your head had been bare I do not think the heat would have been so intense. But I apologise, Captain. This should not have happened. The fault seems to lie in that program alone. None of the others are so affected. I have deleted it from this system and checked the others. You will be safe if you chose to continue, but I will understand if you do not."
Sheridan looked at Delenn. She had obviously been crying and, he suspected, it was her cry which had brought Draal back to the machine, albeit somewhat tardily. "It's up to you, Delenn. I'll be fine, though I could use something on my hands and face. Do you want to carry on or quit? I'm happy to carry on, if Draal's sure the system is safe."
Draal nodded emphatically. "Absolutely, Captain. I must admit I did not check this program properly myself when I installed it. It seems to have some extra features that..." he stared at the interface and shook his head. "No," he muttered. "That cannot be right." More loudly he said, "The fault is mine, Captain. I should have checked it all." He turned to the console and muttered some instructions. A few seconds later a pot appeared on the floor. "I have called up something from the Great Machine's medical files. This will help those burns, Captain. Whether you can obliterate the memory from both your minds is another matter." He looked at Delenn, concern plain in his face.
For her part Delenn shook her head and reached out for the pot, gently smearing the cream over the backs of Sheridan's hands and onto his face. The burning was instantly relieved. "I will be fine. It's John I'm worried about."
"Would you like to carry on? Finish our honeymoon?"
"If you would like to." Her voice was sure and Sheridan struggled to stand up, feeling her steadying hand as dizziness from the heat caused him to sway slightly.
"I'd like to. I've worked hard on the rest of this. It seems a pity to waste it. And we still have over five days to fill. I'd rather spend it here in some safe venue than in my quarters and wandering the Zocalo. And if we go out we're bound to get waylaid by some ambassador who simply can't wait. At least in here I'll be safe from them."
"You will be safe, period Captain. I give you my word. I will monitor the system personally and if I detect any abnormalities I will shut it down immediately."
"But why did that happen, Draal?" Delenn asked. "What was it about that place? That time? It felt real."
She had turned back to Sheridan as he swayed once more and missed Draal's expression, but Sheridan didn't. Something was seriously worrying the Minbari. He frowned and Draal shook his head. A conversation for another time. Delenn looked up and Draal cleared his throat. "The Captain saw that his name and that of Valen's saviour were similar. Perhaps history saw it also. I do not know. He fitted the description of the man who saved Valen, and he had programmed the computer to make you both look like the other Minbari there so you would be able to move freely. Perhaps the comparisons were too strong." Again that doubtful look and Sheridan caught and held Draal's eyes. There was clearly something about that particular program he wasn't telling them. Shaking himself, Draal raised his arms in defeat. "In truth, I do not understand what happened, but I will check the program myself tell you what I find. It is probably some faulty programming and for that I am responsible. I humbly apologise once more."
Sheridan waved it aside. "Just that program? None of the others show the abnormality?"
"Absolutely." His voice and face were sure.
Turning to Delenn he smiled and put his hands on her shoulders. "How about we return to that log cabin in the snow, huh? I could use the cool air." He looked at her hard as she nodded and saw that she was still worried, and not just about his close shave. "And then you can tell me what happened to you in the Starfire Wheel."
She gasped. "How did you...?"
"Lucky guess. I think we've got a lot to talk about. Computer, run program Sheridan Three." The log cabin surroundings enveloped them and Draal bowed.
"I will leave you two alone, then. I promise you are in safe hands. Without the help of the Great Machine this simulation cannot be maintained at the level of realism you have. I can shut it down at a moment's notice, you have my word." Saluting Delenn and bowing once more to Sheridan, Draal disappeared.
Sheridan sat down heavily in one of the armchairs and ordered the fire to be turned off. He'd had enough heat for a while. As he moved he winced and pulled back the cuff of his shirt to reveal a bruise spreading and a line of bloody gouges in his arm where Delenn's nails had dug into him. "Ouch! So much for safety," he muttered ruefully. Delenn disappeared into the bathroom to reappear with a bowl full of water and a cloth. Carefully she washed his arm. The gouges we quite deep but they were already healing. Nevertheless she ordered the machine to create a bandage which she used to cover his arm. All the time she did this he merely watched her, trying to gauge how she was feeling. She looked up and saw his expression. She indicated the bandage.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."
"Who saved you?"
"When you were in the Starfire Wheel, copying Valen, who saved you?"
"And he's dead?"
He nodded and watched her a moment longer. "Why didn't you tell me?" he said at last.
"I didn't want to frighten you. I hadn't planned it, things just got out of control. It was the only way to stop Minbar from destroying itself."
"By dying yourself?"
"I am only one person. Millions would have died. Someone had to do it. I was the only member of the religious caste whose sacrifice could make a difference." She took his hand in her own and squeezed. "I did not want to leave you, but I had to do something."
"And there was no other way? Something a little less drastic?"
She shook her head. "This was the only one that would work. And it did, just not quite the way I had anticipated."
"Thank god for that!"
"It is no different from your going to Z'ha'dum." She eyed him carefully. She knew she had scared him, but then he'd scared her. He went to protest and then nodded.
"All right. But let's make a deal, huh? No more trying to get ourselves killed. Let's try to make the most of what we have. Deal?"
She nodded. "Deal."
He leaned back and winced again. Pulling his shirt over his shoulders he realised his skin was raw where the light had penetrated worn fibres. Delenn gently smoothed the cream into the burns and he sighed as the numbing and healing lotion took effect.
"Delenn, I'm sorry, but I think I need to get some rest. Do you mind?"
She shook her head and together they walked to the bedroom. As he removed his trousers a few more burns were revealed on his legs and Delenn fetched the pot and helped him tend the wounds.
"Not quite the way I envisaged spending our honeymoon," he muttered.
Delenn shook her head. "There was something wrong. That *was* real. I could feel it. And Draal knows it."
"You caught that too?"
She nodded. "He's happy with the rest of the program. It is just that one part that is worrying him. He will not rest until he finds out what is going on."
There was a knock at the door and they looked at each other. "Who the hell...?" Sheridan stood up and pulled on a dressing gown, silently thanking Draal for the cream that had chilled his burns. Padding to the door he opened it to find Garibaldi standing outside, clearly disturbed.
"Captain, are you two OK in here?"
"We're fine, Michael. Why do you ask?"
"We got something real weird on the sensors and I only just managed to over-ride the controls and get in here."
"What sort of weird?"
"A huge power surge. Clean off the scale. And for a while it was as though this part of the station had just disappeared. We couldn't find it anywhere. Like that Brakiri Day of the Dead thing all over again. One minute it was here and then poof! Gone. Just this room though. You sure you're ok? You look a bit red."
"Sunburn, nothing more," Sheridan lied. "Is everything back to normal now?"
"Yeah. Everythin's runnin' smoothly. I just wanted to check you guys were OK." Delenn appeared in her night-gown behind him and Garibaldi smiled. "Well, I don't want to interrupt you. Sorry for bugging you like that. Must've been a system glitch or something."
"Draal paid us a visit, that was probably something to do with it."
Garibaldi eyed his Captain and Sheridan frowned and indicated he didn't want to discuss it any more. It was time for Garibaldi to go. "Right, well, I'll let Ivanova know you're OK. She was pretty worried for a minute there. I'll see you later Captain, Delenn." Delenn nodded and Garibaldi stepped out, the metal door closing behind him to be transformed back into the wall and wooden door of the log cabin.
Sheridan shook his head and then turned back to Delenn and took her hands in his. "Let's get some sleep. I'm beat."
"There's nothing we can do about it now. Draal'll be working on it down on Epsilon Three. He'll let us know if he finds anything." She reached up and stroked his face and he nodded towards the bedroom. "Come on." She let her hand drop to his chest and then gave a half smile and let him pull her to him. Together they walked back to the bedroom.
The next morning was spent quietly around the cabin while Sheridan recovered from the burns. Regular slatherings with the cream brought relief and the angry red of his skin visibly lessened over the course of the day. He felt tired and sore but otherwise unharmed. By the next day Sheridan was relieved to find that the burns had all healed and he felt well rested. His dreams had been odd, disturbed. Images of the Starfire Wheel and the Minbari outside who said something to him as he handed out the body of Valen. What was the man saying? He had seemed surprised. Shocked even, but then had nodded and stepped away.
Sheridan gazed at the ceiling trying to form the words he'd seen on the man's lips. He felt a touch on his shoulder and the image vanished to be replaced by Delenn's face.
She smothered a yawn. "How are you feeling?"
"I had odd dreams last night."
"Hmm. Me too." He looked at her but she shook her head.
"Confused. It doesn't matter. So," she stretched out under the covers and Sheridan found himself admiring her movements. "What are we going to do today?" Sheridan chuckled. "What?"
"I was just thinking. When was the last time either of us could actually start a day without it being planned a week in advance?"
She was lost in thought for a moment. "I can't remember. Sometime when I was a child I think."
"Worse than me. I had a few leaves that were like that."
"So what did you do?"
"After I was married or before?"
She grinned playfully and stroked her fingers across his chest. "Before."
"Depended where I was." He put his hands behind his head. "If I was somewhere interesting I went exploring. If it was just some seedy space-port..."
He pulled his hands down and rolled onto his side, looking at her. "I'd try and find something to occupy my time." The suggestion in his voice was clear. He ran his fingers down the strap of her night dress and then over her breast.
"All that practice. No wonder you're so good at it!"
"Practice makes perfect," he grinned.
"Hmm. Well, I don't think you're perfect yet." He feigned a hurt expression. "So perhaps you'd like to practice some more?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
He reached under the covers and found the edge of her night-dress. He slipped his hand underneath and slowly worked his way up. Leaning over he brushed his lips over her forehead and eyes before making his way down to her mouth, his hand all the time sliding up and taking the dress with it. It tightened and he felt her move to free the material. Slipping his other hand underneath he pulled the dress out from under her and then, with both hands together, slowly slid it up. Still kissing him she moved her arms through the arm holes and they separated so he could pull the garment over her head. Bending to kiss her once more he tossed it aside and, leaning again on his right arm, he let his left hand rove over her skin, lightly exciting the areas where he knew she was most sensitive.
She sighed into his mouth and parted her legs. He knew an invitation when he saw it and he felt himself stiffening in response. Slowly he kissed his way down her throat and she arched underneath him, exposing her neck to his kisses. He stroked his tongue around the base of her throat and moved to the side, sucking and licking her. She pulled him onto her and responded with kisses of her own, her hands roving over his back and sides. Kissing his way down he encircled one nipple, teasing it before taking it into his mouth and suckling. She moaned and pressed her hands to his head to hold him there. Without moving his mouth he looked up. Her eyes were closed and her head thrown back in pleasure. Still suckling he moved his hand down between her legs and moved through the hair to stroke the wetness there. He teased her labia and let his fingers probe deep into her before slipping back and stroking over her clitoris. She groaned and pressed herself onto his hand increasing the stimulation.
He paused to throw the covers back and then moved his lips across her chest to her other breast, suckling and stroking once more. She ran her hand down his side and pulled on his thigh, encouraging him to kneel. When he did so she reached between them and closed her hand around his penis, rubbing it and stroking her thumb over the tip. She felt wetness and slid her thumb over the head using the semen as lubricant. He moaned and released her breast to look down and watch her hand.
"Jeez, you do that well. Hmmmmm."
She opened her eyes and smiled at him as he leant back on his haunches, his fists on his thighs, letting her do whatever she wanted to him. "I too have had practice," she giggled and pulled herself onto her knees. Kissing his chest she mimicked his earlier movements and pulled a nipple into her mouth, teasing it with her teeth while keeping up the steady stimulation of his penis.
He groaned. "Ngh. Oh man, that's good!"
She placed a hand on his chest and pushed him backwards. Moving his legs to the side he laid back on the bed and then propped himself up on his elbows as her kisses moved down his stomach. She released his penis and breathed hot breath on it before taking the end between her lips and licking the tip. As she took him into her mouth he fell back and threw his arms out to the sides groaning with pleasure. Her hand stroked a line from the base of his penis to his anus, pressing her fist in the gap between that and his testicles. The pressure made his penis jump. She knew exactly where to touch him, how much pressure to use, and for how long.
Her tongue wrapped around him, stroking the length as she pulled back and then enveloped him once more.
"Practice you don't need!" he managed to get out through gritted teeth.
She released him for a moment. "I'd hate to get rusty," she smiled before taking him again.
The combination of sucking and licking which she practised quickly proved too much for him. "Argh! Delenn, for god's sake, stop or you're gonna make me come!"
"Good," came her muffled response.
She felt his balls pull up into his body and she pushed herself down onto him, taking him as deeply as she could. He couldn't hold it any more and his back arched as he pulsed into her. She accepted every drop and then slowly released him, stroking her hands over his body before covering it with her own and brushing back the hair that had fallen across his forehead.
He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. "What you do to me should be illegal!" he got out between gasps.
"Good thing it isn't. It would be embarrassing for the head of the Anlashok to be in jail."
"I'd break you out."
"I should hope so!" She snuggled against him. "Feel good?"
"Wonderful!" He was laughing and she smiled. All the horrors of the Starfire Wheel driven from their minds, for the time being at least.
For a while they just lay there, wrapped in each other's arms, then his hands began to rove over her back and he rolled her over. Kissing her again he muttered "My turn," before making his way between her breasts and over her stomach. He stroked her nipples with his fingers as he moved lower. Then he moved her legs apart and lifted her thighs up to give him better access.
"Comfortable?" he asked.
She nodded. She was already beyond words. He smiled and bent to his task, teasing the labia before moving to the centre of pleasure. He alternated between his tongue and his fingers, rubbing and licking her. As he felt her get closer he gripped her thighs and used his tongue alone. Swift, hard strokes alternating with long slow licks. Her clitoris was stiff and the wetness soaked the sheets under her. He moaned softly in his throat knowing how close she was and increased the speed and strength of his strokes. He could feel his penis stiffening once more. Pulling himself up he used his fingers to bring her to the edge.
"You're nearly there," he whispered. "That's it. Let it come." He pressed harder with his fingers and positioned his penis at the entrance to her vagina. "Just a little more." He stroked her harder, faster. She writhed under him, her breath coming in short gasps. "That's it. Let it go. Come for me."
She began to pant. "John! Oh yes! I'm coming! I'm....nghhhhh"
He drove into her. "Cry out! No one can hear you. Let it go!"
She opened her throat and let loose a cry that Sheridan felt sure could have been heard on Epsilon 3 if it weren't for the room's soundproofing. Her hands gripped the bedclothes and her hips rose to meet him. Thrusting into her he felt his own release build and explode and he let loose a roar of his own. As the orgasm faded he slowed his thrusts until he was still. She was gasping for breath and he lowered himself onto her, kissing her repeatedly, interspersing his touches with words. "I love you. I love you so much. Shhh, it's all right. Shh." Her arms came around him and held him tightly while her inner muscles gripped him rhythmically. Gently he stroked the sweat from her face and held her, smiling as she opened eyes which sparkled in response.
"That looked good," he chuckled.
"And you thought what I did to *you* ought to be illegal!" She shook her head and laughed. "Thank you! That was incredible! Just..." She gasped. "Wow!"
He snorted. "Wow? I don't think you've ever said *that* before. The practice must be working." He grinned and held her tightly against him, revelling in the feel of her skin against his, of his body within hers. Slowly he withdrew and, when they finally parted he pulled up a sheet and snuggled against her, warding off the chill she always felt after their exertions with his own body heat. She was still trying to catch her breath and he grinned. "I really did good, huh?"
"Good?! That's the first time I've been to another planet without using a shuttle!"
He laughed out loud and held her tightly. "I'm glad. I love being able to do that to you."
She shook her head again, still stunned by the power of the orgasm. Then she grinned and kissed the end of his nose. "Yours looked OK too."
"OK?! You have NO idea. I think I made it halfway to the rim!"
"I'm glad. I love being able to do that to you, too." She sighed as she finally caught her breath. "You were right. We needed this. More than I realised." Then she gasped. "Valen, they must have heard me in Green Sector!"
"Good. It'll make 'em envious!"
"Hey, what's the point of being able to send you into orbit if I can't boast a bit?"
"Don't you dare!"
"Oh? And how are you gonna stop me?"
"No sex for a month!"
He quickly raised his hands in surrender. "OK, OK. I won't say a word!" She snuggled against him again and he chuckled. "Not that they won't be able to tell from the grin on my face."
She swatted him and he laughed and hugged her tightly, before tucking her head under his chin and kissing her hair. Then he lay on his back, one arm wrapped around her shoulders. She pulled herself up to rest her head and arm on his chest and he idly stroked the skin of her arm before closing his eyes and sighing contentedly.
They slept for a while, and for once the air wasn't punctuated with his snores. When she woke his eyes were still closed. Slowly, so as not to disturb him, she eased his arms from around her and slid off the bed, padding her way to the bathroom and switching on the shower. She was cleaning her teeth by the time he woke and followed her example. She left before he finished showering, slipped on a light dress and went to the dining room to call up breakfast. Mindful of the fact that they both would have a hearty appetite she ordered a larger meal than was their custom and had made fair inroads into her portion before he sat down opposite her and set to with gusto. As they sat quietly drinking their coffee he chuckled.
"To go back to the original question. What *are* we going to do today? Would you like to see the rest of the program? The safe bit I mean?"
Her face clouded. "I still do not understand what happened yesterday. Everything up until then was wonderful."
"The let's see if we can recapture that." He took in her dress. "I suggest something a little more resilient."
"I know, I was just hungry."
"I'm not surprised!"
She ignored the comment. "So, where is it today?"
"The Founding Fathers and the American Civil War."
"War? Do we have to?"
"Not the event, don't worry. But there are a few moments I'd like you to see. After that, well, there is the Twentieth Century, which seems to have been almost non-stop war, but I've concentrated more on the rebuilding than the events themselves, and at the end there was the move into space. After that we see the first moon colonies, the move to Mars, the meeting with the Centauri and our first steps outside our solar system. But we don't have to do it if you don't want to." He was watching her expression.
"Perhaps not all of it today."
"OK, I'll grab my boots and a clean shirt. I think that other one had best be put in the recycler. And I'm gonna need a new hat, dammit." He shook his head. "I *liked* that hat!"
"You don't normally wear one."
"True, but that was my Agamemnon baseball cap. The crew got it made for me when we won the fleet baseball championship back in fifty-four. It's gonna be hard to replace. It was a kinda good luck charm."
"It seems to have served its purpose."
He grunted and stood up. "Finished?" She nodded. "Computer, clear the table." The breakfast dishes disappeared.
Delenn chuckled. "I could get used to this. After the mess you made last time you tried to cook me dinner..."
"Hey, I was concentrating on the flavour."
"Really! Now come on before you bruise my ego so much I have to go and sulk."
She stood up and put her arm around him. "As if I would." She reached up and kissed him before pulling away and going into the bedroom. His boots were under the settee and he rescued them and sat down pulling them on and quickly lacing them up. She emerged a few minutes later, the sensible shoes he'd ordered for her the day before on her feet and a respectable but not too elaborate dress on. He gave a satisfied nod and opened the door.
"After you, Ambassador." She stepped out onto the snow and he stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders. "Now, Valen is one of your heroes. I'm gonna show you one of mine. Computer, initiate program Sheridan One, beginning with the...oh, we'll skip Plymouth Rock....beginning with the Gettysberg Address."
The tidied battlefield appeared as it had before Ivanova and Garibaldi. Delenn, of course, had the advantage over him on Minbar since she could understand every word of what was happening. When Lincoln stood up she strained to hear his opening words over the din of the crowd which hadn't noticed he had started. Sheridan had brought them close enough to the dais that his words were not completely drowned out and she was entranced by the short but moving speech which, in so few words, captured not only what had happened at that place, but at so many others she could remember.
When he finished Delenn turned to Sheridan. "I can see why you admire him. He was a wise man and he has a good face. An honest man as well, I think. What happened to him?"
Sheridan's expression clouded and he shook his head. "It's...uh. Let's move on."
"John? What happened to him?"
"He was assassinated less than a year after the end of the war." He said bluntly.
"The man who killed him was on the losing side. I think it was his idea of revenge. It was stupid, though. Lincoln wanted to rebuild the South, not destroy it. After he was killed it took the South years to recover because the North was too angry to help them rebuild."
"South and North? They were fighting over geography?" Delenn was confused.
"No. That's just the way people talk about it. The northern states of the US made up, in large part, the Union Army, and the southern states were the bulk of the Confederate Army. The fight was over lots of things. Fundamentally it was over whether the country as a whole was a union under a single government or a confederacy of states which governed themselves. The matter which brought it to a head was slavery. The south was largely agricultural and had a large slave population, while the north was industrialised and had fewer. But it wasn't that simple. A lot of people forget that Lee, who was eventually put in charge of the most powerful Confederate Army, had freed all his slaves and didn't approve of slavery, while Grant, who was put in charge of the Union Army, still had his." He shook his head. "Politics. But this was the first war which was fought using technology, and it was the first to use trench warfare on a large scale. It was also the first to use telecommunications so people knew what was going on virtually that day instead of three weeks later. Fifty years later the lessons still hadn't been learned and World War One was a confused mass of old generals still adhering to the old tactics in the face of new and far more powerful weapons. It was slaughter."
Delenn shuddered. "Could we skip that bit please? I think I would rather not see it."
"Sure. I know what you mean. There's one other part of this war though...Computer, next scene."
The battlefield still rang with the deep boom of large guns fired at a distant enemy but, for the time being at least, the men were resting. Sheridan pointed out the officer. "My ancestor, Philip Sheridan."
Delenn studied the man's face. She was not sure she liked what she saw. "You are very different."
"It's a long time ago."
"But even as a soldier he is a very different man to you. I think, perhaps, he likes what he does."
"So do I."
"All of it?"
"No, not all of it. In an ideal world I'd be unemployed."
"I think he would prefer to be employed."
Sheridan considered his ancestor's face. There did seem to be a harder and, perhaps, more brutal aspect. The beard was a little sparse over his chin revealing the hard jaw and emphasising the high and angular cheekbones. His eyes were narrowed and stared steadily across the no man's land between his own army and that of the enemy. Sheridan could be hard but the lines in this man's face showed an habitual coldness. But then, no one in this time was immune from the effects of several years of war.
"He was a great general and he trained his men well. I think he was hard, but he got results, and his men respected him. They called him 'Little Phil' Sheridan."
"Then perhaps I have misjudged him. I'm sorry."
"No need. He was what he was. All of them were. You want a good face you should look at Lee. Now there was a man everyone respected, Union and Confederate. And he didn't like what he was doing, he was just determined to do it to the best of his ability, for the sake of his state and his men."
She smiled. "That sounds more like you."
"I hope so. Lee's another hero of mine. Let's skip on a bit. Computer, move to the Apollo moon landing."
The scene changed and they were standing in a control centre surrounded by people who looked like they were living on their nerves. They were all staring up at a screen and listening to a voice which crackled over the speakers.
"One...small step for man. One...giant leap for mankind." The room burst into applause and cheers, and people clapped each other on the back.
Sheridan leant down. "That's Neil Armstrong. The first man to set foot on the moon."
"He said those words when he landed on the moon?"
"Yeah. I don't think they were his, though. I think it was pretty well rehearsed before hand. Good words, though, whoever came up with them."
Delenn nodded and looked around. "Such primitive technology. Your people have made great strides since this time."
"Hey, it was hi-tech back then. But yeah, we've done a lot in a short time."
"When I was studying your people I remember being amazed at how quickly you progressed. We seem to have moved much slower than you."
"War is probably the key. Technology always races in war time. People are always trying to come up with faster and more efficient ways of killing the other guy without getting killed themselves."
"We also spent a long time fighting each other. The war between the castes ran on for many hundreds of years. It would die down and then break out again. Even the breaks were more because each side needed time to regroup than because they wanted it to end. And it is not just the Warrior Caste who could be brutal. My own caste was barbaric in ways that horrify me. Sometimes one has to fight, I know, and I have been as bad as everyone else...because I believed the war was right and the enemy had to be destroyed, but I was wrong." She sighed. "John, can we go somewhere peaceful? Somewhere where there are no people or wars or hatred? This has been fascinating and thank you for helping me to understand your people better, but I think I would like to stop this now."
Sheridan looked up at the screens and thought about what he'd shown her. "You know, I think my view of history is a bit skewed. Garibaldi was right. I should have shown you more of things like the Sistine Chapel, or the development of arts and sciences. I guess I concentrated on what I knew. But we've done good things too. We found cures for plagues and diseases. We've written great books and created works of art that would blow you away."
Delenn smiled. "I know. I have looked through your virtual galleries. And you showed me the Sphinx and the Pyramids. They are amazing. It's all right John. I know your race has done a great deal of good. Really, Humans and Minbari are not so very different. We have both committed acts of atrocity and we have both created much beauty. We're neither of us perfect."
"But we keep trying."
"And that's the greatest thing of all. Never to lose hope."
He smiled and nodded. "I know just the place. It's getting late anyway. Computer, run program Sheridan Four."
The control centre dissolved to be replaced by a beach. A blue ocean lapped at the sandy shore and the sun was low on the horizon. A warm breeze took the heat off the end of the day and was filled with the fresh scents of the sea and the myriad flowers that bloomed in the forest that began above the waterline. Delenn breathed deeply and sighed. Sheridan beckoned her down towards the shore. He sat down and took off his boots and socks, motioning Delenn to take off her shoes. Stuffing his socks into his boots he asked the computer to show where their clothes were and tossed the items across to be swallowed up by the recreated forest. Then he took Delenn's hand and together they walked down to the water's edge and strolled along it, feeling the water lap at their ankles.
They walked slowly, chatting about anything and everything that took their fancy. Sometimes the conversation veered back to the history tour but then it would go off at a tangent. Soon they were simply sharing things about themselves. Stories they'd never told each other before. Memories of people and places they had seen. They laughed and smiled as the sun set in a blaze of glory, and as the stars became visible Sheridan pointed out the constellations of Earth telling, wherever he could, the stories behind them. Delenn tried to describe those on Minbar and Sheridan ordered the computer to display them so she could point them out to him. And so they talked in the moonlight, strolling along an earthly beach under a Minbari sky. When she grew hungry Sheridan led her to a restaurant he'd created and they ate and drank by the light of the stars and moons and the candle on the table. When Delenn yawned Sheridan called up a beach hut and they fell asleep to the sounds of lapping waves.
The next day Delenn woke to find Sheridan gone. Looking out of the window she saw him swimming in the sea. Seeing her he called out for her to join him. Swimming wasn't her strong suit. The seas of Minbar were typically too cold to encourage such behaviour. She stood at the water's edge watching him dive in and out of the waves, laughing as he was spun over by a breaker he hadn't seen and came up spluttering. With strong strokes he came back to the shore.
"Come on in. The water's great!"
"I don't swim!"
"Then I'll teach you. Come on."
She was nervous but he cajoled her into putting aside her dress and stepping into the waves. The sea was fairly calm and Sheridan was careful not to take her out of her depth. He helped her relax enough to float and then showed her how to use her arms. Of course, the first time she tried to actually swim she sank like a stone and Sheridan quickly pulled her back up and then supported her as she learned her first few strokes. She was a quick study and soon she was swimming on her own as he floated alongside to make sure she was safe. It took her a while to master the co-ordination of arm and leg movements and initially she looked ungainly, but she persevered and soon, if not up to his standard, was certainly capable. He nodded approvingly and then indulged in some horseplay that left her in no doubt that she still had a lot to learn.
"You move as though you are a part of the water," she said.
"And so will you, given time."
"I'm not so sure. You Humans seem more comfortable in the water than we are."
"And you're part Human. Before you know it we'll have you diving off the high board!"
"I don't think so. But this is fun."
He dived down beside her and, for a moment, she wondered where he'd gone to. When he didn't appear she began to worry and looked around. Suddenly he broke water right beside her, sending a shower over her head. Before she could protest he took her in his arms and kissed her. She could taste the salt on his lips and felt herself floating as he kicked away and took her into slightly deeper water. After a while he rolled onto his back. She held onto his shoulder as he made strong kicks back to the shore. As they reached the surf he pulled her to her feet and kissed her again, the sea now only reaching their knees.
"Happy?" he asked as he pulled back.
"Very," she smiled.
"Just under three days left. What do you want to do with them?"
She looked around. "I think I should like to stay here for a while. Is there anywhere to explore?"
"Sure. There's a river and a pool and a waterfall just beyond those trees and up the rise, and beyond that there's a plain where the animals gather. I had the computer get us some tame horses we can use to ride if you like."
"I have never ridden a horse."
"You never swam in the sea before either."
"True." She looked around. "I watched an Earth vid once where two people made love in the surf."
Sheridan shook his head. "Looks great, but the sand and salt is a killer, trust me. I tried it once. I was sore for a week." Delenn looked a little sad and Sheridan grinned. "But that fresh water pool I was telling you about would be fine."
"Is that why you made it?"
"Wellll, a man can hope."
She shook her head. "At this rate we will both need a holiday apart to recover from our holiday together!"
"It's what honeymoons are all about."
"Next year, perhaps we can do something of my world." Sheridan looked a little nervous and idly stroked the scars on his arm. "The less dangerous parts," she added.
He looked up and smiled. "Sure. Why not? I'd like to learn more about your world. We could make this an annual event, showing off bits of our worlds to each other." The sun was beating down and Sheridan felt his shoulders beginning to burn. "Come on. One sunburn this week is enough. Let's get in the shade."
They sat in the shade and ate fruit from the trees, although Sheridan assured her the real thing tasted even better. The computer hadn't quite managed to get the tang without a fresh sample to test. They walked, they swam, they explored, they made love by the waterfall at the edge of the pool it formed, they slept under the stars and they talked.
The next day followed a similar pattern but on the last day Delenn asked that they return to the countryside and river where they'd begun. The quiet sounds of the riverbank and rolling hills of the countryside enchanted her. On an impulse Sheridan added an English woodland in the spring when the bluebells covered the floor in a carpet of flowers and the air hung heavy with the scent of hyacinth. Dappled light highlighted the flowers and Delenn stared transfixed.
"Are all your woods like this on Earth?" she said at last.
"No. The American continent has different flowers. I saw this on leave once. I had a girlfriend who wanted to see it. She'd heard about it from her English parents and never seen it, so we went. I loved it."
"So do I." She took a deep breath and sighed. "It's magical."
"Kinda makes you think King Arthur or one of his knights should suddenly ride in here."
"Well, one of his knights is here at least." She smiled up at him and then followed well worn paths to a small lake. Some ducks sailed across its surface and a fallen tree provided a seat where they could admire the view and drink in the scent. At last she looked down a little sadly.
"After all my complaints before we started this, now I find I don't want it to end."
"I know what you mean. Just remember that when our anniversary comes around next year."
"I will keep my calendar free."
"But I have so much to do when we get back! It is going to take an age to catch up."
"I know. But it was worth it, right?"
"Yes. And we will find out from Draal what happened."
"Yes we will." He said the words with such force that Delenn looked up.
"You are still worried aren't you?"
"I just know Londo is at the root of it somehow. It's his hardware and software. I don't know where he got it from but I'm damned well gonna find out!"
"Don't be too hard on him."
Sheridan stared at her. "Delenn!"
"I know, I know. But, I have had such a wonderful time apart from that. Can we think about that tomorrow? I don't want to spoil our last day in here." They spent the rest of the day there but, as the sun began to set, she asked that they return to the Sphinx. Mindful of her earlier comment he told the computer to leave the place empty of people. At one point Sheridan wanted to climb up onto his back and stand atop him but Delenn shook her head.
"It seems disrespectful somehow," she said.
"It's only a recreation."
"I know, but..." She couldn't put it into words. She just stared up at the mighty beast and Sheridan followed her gaze.
"You're right. He's quite something. Make the most of it. You can't get this close today. They had to cordon him off against tourists."
They picnicked between the giant paws and afterwards Sheridan ordered some blankets to warm them against the desert night. They made love beneath the Sphinx's steady gaze and watched the dawn come up as he stared unblinking into the light.
Returning to the log cabin they packed their clothes.
"Ready?" Sheridan said at last.
"Ready," she replied a little sadly.
"Computer, end program."
The yellow grid reappeared, glowing faintly, and Delenn sighed. "Amazing. One would never think such a room could hold such wonders."
"Time to get back to the real world. Come on, I want to hear what Draal's found out."
Together they entered the station corridor and the metal door swung closed behind them.
"Captain! You are well I trust?"
Sheridan spun around to see Draal standing in his office. He leaned on his desk, the report he'd been reading momentarily forgotten. "Draal, I wish you wouldn't DO that!"
"I'm sorry, Captain. Perhaps this is a bad time?"
"No, no, not at all. I was just catching up on what's been happening. Have you traced that problem?"
"I have indeed, which is why I'm here."
Ivanova was walking towards Sheridan's office to see if he wanted some lunch when a yell tore the air.
"WHAT?!!!!!!" It was Sheridan's voice. Technicians walking the same corridor stopped and stared at each other and then looked towards the source of the cry.
Ivanova ran the rest of the distance and arrived in the doorway panting to see Sheridan staring at Draal.
"You have GOT to be kidding me?!"
"Captain, I assure you, I would not say this unless I was absolutely certain."
"Did he KNOW that?"
"I do not know. For that you would have to ask the Ambassador."
"I intend to. Excuse me." Sheridan marched toward the doorway but Ivanova blocked his path.
"Captain. Where are you going?"
"To Londo's quarters. And if he knew where that thing came from I'm gonna tear him apart!"
"Captain, you can't do that. He's an Ambassador!"
"Out of my way, Susan!"
Sheridan pushed past and marched from the room. Ivanova stared at Draal.
"What the hell is going on around here?"
"I suggest you ask the Captain."
"I'm asking you."
"The hologram program was a little more than a mere entertainment device."
"Care to explain?"
Sheridan was waiting at the transport tube when Ivanova's cry reached his ears. "It's a WHAT???!!!"
Sheridan nodded tightly to himself and held the doors until Ivanova arrived at a run.
"I take it Draal told you?" he asked.
Ivanova nodded but couldn't get any words past her gritted teeth. They stepped into the transport tube together. Once they were on their way Sheridan turned to her.
"You realise if it turns out he knew where that technology came from I'm probably going to space him?"
"I'll hold the door," she replied tightly.
Sheridan grunted and, in silence, they travelled the rest of the way to the Ambassadorial section.
Side by side they marched to Londo's quarters. When they arrived Sheridan took a deep breath and then pressed the door announce.
"Yes, who is it?" Londo sounded testy.
"Captain Sheridan and Commander Ivanova. May we come in?"
"Captain, I am rather busy at the moment."
Sheridan pulled out his security over-ride card and shoved it hard into the door lock. The door swung open. "Tough!" he said.
Londo sprang to his feet and the girl he was entertaining grabbed her clothes and ran from the room. "Captain, I resent this intrusion. May I remind you that you are on Centauri property right now? I could have you arrested."
"Did you know where that holographic technology came from?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"It's a simple enough question, Ambassador," Ivanova smoothly repeated before Sheridan could explode. "Did you know who wrote and created that software and hardware?"
"Well....." he looked up and saw Sheridan's face. "No, of course I didn't."
"So you asked for all that equipment to be set up on this space station without the faintest idea where it came from?" Sheridan's voice was dangerously quiet.
"Well, no, not exactly. I mean I know who I had bought it from."
"And who was that?"
"A trader, nothing more. Captain, I demand an explanation. What do you think you are doing barging in here like this?!"
"But you knew the trader couldn't have created the program or the equipment?"
"Since it was a human trader I seriously doubt he understood the technology behind it."
"Who did this man work for?"
"Captain. This is most..."
"Who did this man work for?" Sheridan's tone was rising.
"And before that? Come on, Londo. I know you know, so let's just cut the crap shall we?"
"I believe he said he used to work for IPX."
"And he found this stuff while he was working for them?" Ivanova said, her tone only slightly less dangerous than the Captain's.
"I assume so."
"Did he say *where* he found it?" she asked.
"Somewhere out on the rim I believe. Captain I really must protest..."
"Did he say whether there was anything else like this on the planet?" Sheridan interrupted.
"He might have mentioned it. If you are thinking of trying to outbid me for the other wonders on this planet I can assure you, you cannot afford it. And the Centauri Republic reserves the right for first refusal on anything else this man might have."
"So you knew what the planet was?"
"No, I did not *know*!"
"You suspected then?" Ivanova said.
"I...What is this all about?"
Sheridan stepped forward, his manner so menacing that Londo took a step backwards before his wrath. "You knew, or at least strongly suspected that this was from a Technomage planet and yet you said nothing?" Londo opened his mouth to answer but Sheridan carried on. "And you know, just as well as I do, that Technomages don't create things for fun or entertainment purposes. They might sometimes USE them that way, but they always have another purpose, their REAL purpose. And you're trying to tell me that you didn't even *try* to find out the real purpose of this machine?" Sheridan had backed Londo against the sink unit and Ivanova stepped forward, hedging the Ambassador in.
"It's real purpose didn't matter. I only wanted it for its entertainment uses."
"Would you like to KNOW it's real purpose?"
"Allow me to fill you in." Sheridan's tone had dropped the temperature in the room several degrees and Londo shivered. "As you know, Ambassador Delenn and I used that facility last week in order to get some time to ourselves, trusting -- though god alone knows why -- that it was safe. During the course of that week we activated a program that addressed the real purpose of the machine and, since the whole was plugged into the energy of the Great Machine, the program fulfilled its function." He paused before drawing breath and yelling so loudly Delenn heard it from her quarters and decided to investigate. "AND I FOUND MYSELF NINE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS AGO ON MINBAR STEPPING INTO THE STARFIRE WHEEL TO TAKE THE PLACE OF VALEN WHO WAS ABOUT TO BECOME TOAST!!!!" Ivanova placed a restraining hand on Sheridan's arm, but Sheridan wasn't about to be restrained. "IT'S A FUCKING TIME PORTAL!!!!"
"Captain, I assure you, I had no idea." Londo tried to force his body into the sink unit.
The door opened and Delenn came in. "John?"
"Later, Delenn. I'm busy." Sheridan snapped, turning his attention back to Londo. "I'm confiscating that equipment as of right now. I want the name of the man who sold it to you, the name of the planet it came from, the names of anyone who has studied this equipment or who has plans for it, and I want them right now. Do I make myself clear?" Londo nodded furiously. "And if I suspect you're holding anything back..." Sheridan left the threat hanging in the air.
Londo raised his hands and edged past the Captain to his computer, feeling Sheridan's eyes boring into him on every step. Once there he downloaded the information onto a data-crystal and handed it over before deleting the original. Sheridan snatched the data-crystal from Londo's hand.
"Count yourself lucky Draal was monitoring what was going on, Londo," Ivanova added. "If he hadn't snatched the Captain out of there before he got toasted I would have personally marched you across the hall, down the corridor, along the core shuttle and into the fusion reactor."
"You cannot threaten me," Londo said, pulling himself up to his full height.
Ivanova bore down on him. "Watch me!"
Londo shrank several inches. Sheridan turned and walked out of the door, grabbing Delenn's hand as he did so and leading her outside. Ivanova watched them go and then turned back to Londo, producing a data-crystal of her own from her pocket. She always kept a copy of some things with her. One never knew when they might prove of value. "I suggest you take a look at this. It's a list of things you won't be doing from now on." She produced another crystal from the other pocket. "On here is another list of your activities I'll shut down if you put this station, the Captain or anyone else in danger again. In fact, for the next few weeks if you so much as blink in the wrong way I may shut them down anyway. Have a very nice day, Ambassador." Ivanova pocketed the second data crystal, turned on her heel and left the room. She stood outside just long enough to know that Londo had put his data-crystal into his computer and was scanning the files.
"Nooooo!" came the anguished cry from within. "She cannot do that. Not that. That too? Great Maker how did she....Not that as well? I will be ruined!"
With a satisfied nod Ivanova rocked on her heels and made her way back to the transport tube. She still had enough on Londo to make his life miserable for the next twenty or thirty years. More than enough.
"A time portal?" Delenn stared as Sheridan collapsed into a chair in her quarters, his fury finally spent.
"Apparently so. The reason I matched the descriptions is because it was me. Draal timed it pretty close. A second less and the Minbari would have seen me disappear before the wheel destroyed me. A second more and I'd have been ash on the floor. Draal's checking through the other files that came with the machine, and apparently there were others with the same programming feature hidden in there, some of which have already been used, though not since it came on this station."
"And the ones that haven't been used yet? What of them?"
"No idea. I'm certainly not going to try them out for myself!"
"What will happen to the machine?"
"I'm having it dismantled."
"Do you have to?"
"But, apart from that one program, it is such a wonderful thing. I'm sure Draal could render it innocuous and then think of the advantages! We had such an amazing week. It would be a shame if we could never use it again."
"And next year, I could write our anniversary program. I already have some ideas of what I would like to show you."
"Doesn't it bother you that I almost got myself killed?"
"But you didn't. You were and are Fi'veni. One of the most revered people in Minbari history."
"I doubt I'd be so revered if the history books knew it was a Human who did it," he snorted.
"It doesn't matter. *I* know."
Sheridan still looked doubtful. "Delenn, that thing is downright dangerous. And we can't have people popping around time. They'll cause havoc!"
"But they won't if Draal fixes the machine. And think what we could do and where we could see!"
"I'm not convinced."
"I will speak with Draal. He would never put either of us in danger. If he does not think the machine can be made safe I will help you tear it down myself. Deal?"
Sheridan looked up. "You enjoyed it that much?"
"Despite what happened?"
"I think, in part, because of it. I learned something new about a period in my people's history that is very special to me, and you became a part of it. And after all your hard work it would be a pity to throw it all away." She sat on the arm of his chair and grinned. "In any case, there's still that other Delenn in there for when I'm not here." She let her fingers play with his collar. "I was thinking that if I fine tune the program a bit you might try and work out some of those ideas of yours on her, and if she likes them you can then try them out on me." Sheridan's eyes widened at the implications. "Of course, I'd want a virtual version of you as well."
"Just in the interests of...ah...furthering understanding between us."
Sheridan couldn't work out just how serious she was. "Uh, Delenn...?"
"Well, you remember those things you bought for me that I said I thought would look silly?"
"Well, I have a few things in mind for you as well."
He pulled her onto his lap. "Oh you do, do you?"
"And you know those catalogues Mr Garibaldi sometimes leaves in your office?"
Sheridan gulped. He had no idea Delenn had seen those. "Uh, look, just because I sometimes like reading about things..."
"Oh, it's all right, John. Some of them sounded quite interesting. In fact, I was wondering..." She leaned down and whispered in his ear. He blushed.
"Really?" he said when she pulled back.
She nodded. "I think it could be, how do you say it? 'Most educational.'"
"That's one way of putting it."
"And if we could work out the technology and have a smaller version put in our quarters..."
"...then I wouldn't have to worry so much about the security lock-outs."
"Well, you know how good Michael is at breaking codes."
Sheridan thought for a moment. "Too good," he said at last. "Way too good."
"And at least this way when we want to take some time off we won't be far away from the station, so if anything does happen they can call us."
"You know, I have a meeting with the Pak'ma'ra in just over an hour. Have you any idea how hard it's gonna be for me to concentrate after what you've just said?"
She let her hand drop to his lap and smiled at his body's announcement of the effect her suggestion had had on him. "Did you have anything in mind between now and then?"
"I was supposed to be catching up on Ivanova's reports."
He considered the contents of the reports, a brief précis of which had been waiting in his office when he arrived. Nothing vital. Oxygen consumption, water usage, standard security reports, departmental reports, Docker's Guild report, and one that might be relevant to his upcoming meeting. "I tell you what, let me check out one of them. If that doesn't kill my interest I'll be with you in ten minutes."
"Which will give me enough time to check out one of my reports. If that doesn't kill *my* interest, I'll be waiting for you. In the meantime, you might order a halt on the dismantling of the holographic room." She slid from his lap and stood up, stroking his cheek before disappearing into her bedroom to review the report. Sheridan stared after her and then shook his head.
"Amazing!" he muttered, and then activated his link. "Sheridan to Ivanova."
"Ivanova here, go."
"Susan, cancel my order to dismantle the holographic room. And see if you can get Draal to help the tech crew make it safe. Providing he can, it's staying."
"Oh great! I mean, yes sir!"
Sheridan grinned and closed the link. "Now, where's that blasted report?"
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