THE COIN OF THE REALM

By Cheryl Hathaway

 

 

 

This is my answer to the question of why/how in "Face of the Enemy" Delenn woke up knowing John was in trouble, and it carries on through my version of Sheridan's escape. It is the same story I told earlier in "Buying Time," except this time it is being told mostly from Delenn's perspective. This one is longer; Delenn gets to interact with more people than John does.

 

 

 

 

*****

"John!" Delenn awoke, her whole body shaking. She had felt such an incredible burst of raw emotion--pain, grief, anger--and a slipping away into darkness. Her heart raced. It had to be John, but what, but where, but how?

   Lennier opened the doors to Delenn's sleeping chambers. "Something has happened." She didn't want to listen. She didn't want to hear what her heart already knew, but she did. Wrapping herself in the borrowed blue robe, Delenn joined Lennier in the main room of her suite. She sank tiredly onto one of the seats looking up at him.

   Lennier briefed her as he had so many times before on unfolding events. It had been a trap, all of it. Oh, they'd captured John's father all right and transferred him to Mars just as Mr. Garibaldi had said, but from there on nothing appeared to have been the truth. Mr. Garibaldi had set and baited his trap with David Sheridan. John could not refuse; there was no one he would have moved more quickly and recklessly to save. To John, family was everything, and to Delenn, John was everything.

   Knowing she had to do something, but not knowing yet just what she could do, Delenn rose and began to pace back and forth across the floor. Lennier looked at her quizzically. This was another of the captain's habits Delenn seemed to be acquiring.

   First Delenn decided, she would need to contact Zack Allan. Mr. Allan would have access to all subspace communications as soon as they came in. She had to be informed immediately. Even waiting for Lennier to bring news would be too much of a frustration. She had to know what was happening.

   John was still alive. She believed that. She had to. Down any other road was insanity. She had felt him--alive, hurting, so furious that somehow his emotions has crossed the gulf of space and reached her as she slept--and she had felt the contact break, felt him slip away...into unconsciousness or into pain so great that it blocked his ability to reach her. If the contact had been made once, surely it could be made again. From what she knew of psi powers, neither she nor John had any. Still, there had always been stories of mothers and children, or lovers--her cheeks colored slightly at that thought--who communicated across unimaginable distances sending images or at least feelings to each other. Surely, what she had felt before was such a sending. She had known, before Lennier arrived, that John had been captured, that John was hurt. A small part of her wanted to go back to sleep, to wake up again, and have this all be untrue. That small part was denied. It was true.

   What could she do? She could contact Minbar, ask for a battle cruiser--the best, the fastest. *I will get him back or have my revenge.* She shook her head: that was just what John had striven so hard to avoid...Minbari coming to Earth again for revenge. She had learned that lesson the hardest way. She would not call up a battle cruiser. She would not destroy the many in revenge for the few, but she had to do something.

   She could contact Mars. Who was on Mars now? Lyta and Stephen... the Resistance. She didn't know the Resistance, but she knew Ms. Alexander and Dr. Franklin. Surely, they would help. If she could feel John at this distance by herself, wouldn't she and Lyta be able to feel him if they were all on Mars. Maybe together they could locate him, rescue him. They had tried merging their thoughts to contact John at Z'Ha'Dum. It hadn't worked then, but it was certainly worth another try. They had to try.

   "I can not lose him now. I can not!" Delenn's thoughts moved as quickly as her feet. "I will not." She stopped pacing realizing Lennier was staring at her, his mouth slightly open not knowing what to say. "I do not know how to explain it," she said ruefully, "but somehow, it does help."

   "It also wears out the rugs," Lennier commented and was rewarded by the smallest shadow of a smile.

   "How soon can my personal flyer be ready to leave Babylon Five?" Delenn knew it was "always" kept in readiness, but with so very many other ships in the area--the other League members helping to defend Babylon 5 while the Army of Light freed the Earth Alliance colony worlds and moved on towards Mars and Earth--she wasn't sure that maintenance schedules had been kept as preplanned.

   "I will contact the crew now. It should be no more than an hour or two." Lennier walked to the computer console, keying in the necessary queries and calling up the minimal personnel necessary to run Delenn's small ship.

   "I must pack now. I will be leaving for Mars in one hour." Delenn turned back to her sleeping chamber. "Tell the crew to meet me at the ship by that time, or I will leave without them. Oh, and contact Mr. Allan. Tell him I will want a direct feed of any and all news to my quarters here and to the ship as soon as we are underway."

   "Delenn, do you think this is a good idea, running into the danger zone so to speak? Captain Sheridan wanted you where you would be safe."

   Delenn grimaced. "Yes, but I do not believe there are any safe places anymore, Lennier...not here, not on Minbar, not on Mars or Earth or anywhere." She lowered her face so that Lennier would not see the tears slide silently down her cheeks. The pain of the Starfire Wheel was still with her though she worked very hard at not letting it show. She would have made the ultimate sacrifice for her people, but Neroon had not allowed it. Now she had one more thing she would owe to Neroon--an opportunity to be "dangerous" in whatever way was required to gain John's release, to get him back, to put an end to his suffering. She made a formal bow to Lennier and, turning to enter her bed chamber, nearly collapsed on the floor. The lance of pain that had come and gone through her mind was so bright it left after images, echoes of agony. She needed to get to Lyta and soon. Lennier steadied her, taking her elbow. He did and did not understand.

   Lennier knew that Delenn and Captain Sheridan loved each other and were promised to be joined as soon as appropriate rituals could be completed. He knew that Delenn cared deeply about what happened to this particular human being. What he did not know, and could not have begun to understand if he had known, was that Delenn was in some horrible, wonderful way connected to John Sheridan. Delenn herself was just beginning to realize the extent of their connection.

   Lennier left her preparing a small bag of necessary traveling items. As soon as he was gone, she stopped packing and just stood shaking in the middle of the room. *What, in Valen's name, did they do to John that hurt that much?* If she was going to have many more experiences like that last one, she was going to need a personal guard and a guide...one to defend her when she was unaware of her real world and the other to keep her from walking into walls and falling down as she experienced John's world.

   This last time she had had a vague sense of other minds, like a black wall surrounding John, trying to form a barrier. *But why would they want or need to bury John's thoughts? Were they attempting a shield to make him difficult, if not impossible, to find telepathically? Or, had his contact been strong enough the first time to warn his captors that he could be, potentially, calling for help?* She wished she had some answers for all the myriad questions that kept piling up. She did not.

   Delenn sorted quickly through the personal items in her living quarters. She would take only the barest necessities. Lennier, returning with the requested information about her ship's flight plan, slipped a few packages of Minbari teas into her bag. "They will help you relax," he assured her. They probably would. Leave it to Lennier to know she might need to do just that. Waiting was the hardest job of all. The computer beeped, and Delenn acknowledged an incoming message from Zack Allan.

   "Mister Allan, thank you for getting back to me so quickly. I am going to break a trust, something I do not do lightly. Commander Ivanova asked me to stay here and watch over the station in her absence. In light of what I now believe has happened on Mars, I can not in good conscience do so. Lennier will be here in my stead, in case you need to communicate with Minbar. I suggest you make use of his diplomatic skills. He has been an invaluable ally to me." Delenn finally paused and noted the flabbergasted expression on Zack Allan face. "You, sir, are going to be in charge of Babylon Five until one or more of the other senior command staff return. I trust you understand what a responsibility that will be." Zack nodded. "And, thank that nice young man Mister Corwin, please. Lennier tells me he was instrumental in arranging the quickest possible departure time for my ship."

   "Ambassador," Zack began, finding his voice in the maelstrom, "does this mean that you aren't coming back here right away?"

   "Yes, Mister Allan, that is exactly what it means, and when I come back I will have Captain Sheridan with me." Delenn's determined tone of voice was undercut by her trembling hands which fortunately were hidden from the terminal's viewscreen. "Good day," she said formally and bowed to Zack in traditional Minbari fashion.

   "Delenn, please let me go with you. You'll need someone to... 'make tea.'" Lennier was grasping at straws, but he did not want to see her depart alone. She knew and he knew that he would worry about her the entire time she was gone. She left, waving quickly to him from the boarding ramp of her personal ship.

    ----------

   The trip to Mars, even taking an indirect route, was uneventful. On the fourth day of the flight Delenn received a short message from Lennier stating that she would be "expected and met" when she arrived. She did not anticipate that those already there would be pleased with her sudden appearance.

   Alone in her cabin, Delenn played the data crystal she had made of John's message to her--the Z'Ha'Dum one--the one where he said that he knew he was going into danger, that he loved her, and that all he really wanted was to love her and be with her. It had been recorded before he had "died" and been "reborn" with twenty years to live, "barring accident or injury." She shuddered wondering how many days, weeks, hours, years were going to be destroyed irrevocably by this experience on Mars. She would never know until the very end and neither would he. Of course, if he did not survive this ordeal, it would not matter. The crystal finished playing, and she punched up the codes to play it again.

   Delenn awoke from a fitful sleep. She was on her ship. Suddenly, she who had never been air or space sick one moment in her entire life was violently, wretchedly ill. Her stomach would not be appeased. Alone in her cabin, she threw up again and again. She was nauseous, almost too ill to care when they finally reached Earth's solar system. She did not understand why her body had chosen this particular time to revolt? She closed her eyes and rested her face on the cool tile of the bathroom wall in her cabin. For just a fleeting moment she felt John, too, resting his head against a cool surface. He was praying for the pain in his guts to relent for just a little while. There was something she almost understood about corned beef, and then she was retching again--dry heaves now, nothing left to come up. *Could this possibly be happening to John?* She felt that she was just beginning to understand this link they shared and realizing that she might not like all of what it had to offer.

    ----------

   The White Star fleet was rapidly approaching Mars. Per orders, they were avoiding contact or confrontation at this point. Delenn reached Susan Ivanova, John's second-in-command, over the deep-space transmitter. She listened as Susan raged about Mr. Garibaldi's treason. "You are right to be angry with him, but do not become so angry that you will not let yourself see the truth," Delenn cautioned. "Mister Garibaldi has not been the same since he returned to the station. It is most regrettable that none of us has had the time or ability to follow up on his experiences. I suspect it would make a long story, and not a pretty one."

   Susan grumbled, "Well if he comes within target practice range of me, he's a dead man. Nobody does that to 'my Captain' and lives to laugh it off."

   "I do not think Mister Garibaldi is laughing right now," Delenn whispered. *Was this another insight from John or her own mind ferreting out conclusions from the morass of information about those events preceding the Shadow War?*

    ----------

   As her small ship entered orbit around Mars, Delenn decided that a direct approach might be more productive than a stealthy one. Claiming trader status, she instructed her pilot to set her ship down at the main spaceport just outside Mars Dome. She had brought a large hooded cloak, white with pale blue lining. When she was ready to leave the ship, she put on the cloak and brought the hood forward so that it covered her crest, but not her long brown hair. She had practiced for hours with cosmetics, as Susan had shown her. She had created eyebrows and darkened the tone of her skin subtly altering her distinctive features. *Not perfect, but it will have to do,* Delenn thought. *As long as it serves its purpose and lets me be a help, not a hindrance, to those seeking John.* She would do him no good by coming, if she simply replaced one prisoner with two. She would not be caught. She had decided.

   "Lyta had a Little Vorlon,..." Delenn rehearsed the phrases she had learned. They were necessary in contacting the Resistance. Once she had met with the Resistance, she could see about locating Stephen and Lyta and freeing John. She checked the hood of her cloak and pinned it stealthily with two old-fashioned hairpins. Susan had found them for her in the Zocalo, during that horrible period of adjustment when she had first emerged from the chrysalis. It had been truly like being reborn.

   Ready at last, Delenn stepped out of her ship and drew a deep breath. *It begins...."

   

   

Delenn found a reasonably unpretentious hotel that was not too far from the spaceport nor too near. It featured, of all things, hot baths. Apparently there were hot springs on Mars. Through good planning or lucky chance, this particular hotel had been built on top of a whole group of small thermal vents. In her room, Delenn hung up her cloak and hood and, making sure the door was locked, removed the rest of her clothing. The idea of a hot bath was too good to resist. She desperately needed a little rest. Even without the intestinal spasms, the trip in the small ship with only a sonic scrub intended more for Minbari than human skin, had left her feeling less than clean.

   She stepped into the tub which would have been large enough to double as a small swimming pool on some planets. She was pleased to note that shallow steps allowed one to walk in and out, and that it was entirely possible to sit on one of the steps and scrub before immersing oneself totally in the water. Delenn scrubbed. First her hair and face, then her body, and lastly her legs and feet. She felt wonderful, the warm water and "luffa" sponge had finally removed the grime of travel.

   Slowly she let herself sink down into the pleasantly warm water of the tub. Her mind was floating like her body when she was hit with wave after wave of pain, agony so intense she could not stay on the surface of the water. It was unbearable, excruciating.... Her head went under the water, not once but several times. Each time she managed to fight her way back up. Breaking the surface, she gasped for air. The pain never seemed to stop.

   When she went down the next time, Delenn managed to grasp one of the steps she had sat on earlier. Holding firmly to the "non-slip" strip installed by the thoughtful Martian hotelkeepers, she dragged herself up the steps one at a time. Finally, she was far enough up the steps, far enough out of the water, to let her head sink to the floor and not have it be submerged.

   *In Valen's name, John, what are they doing to you now?* she wondered. Her breathing gradually evened out, but she had an image now deeply planted in her mind of a hand poised over a switch that sent lightning coursing through the universe. *Shocks, electrical shocks!* They did not want a confession. They were trying to destroy him.

    ----------

   Delenn awoke having slept fitfully, waking often, images--only a few of which she recognized--filling her dreams. She spent the next two days on Mars establishing her credentials with the Resistance. They were reluctant to accept anyone unannounced, as she had been, and so obviously "alien." She could well be more of a detriment than an aid. When she finally got to see Lyta and Stephen, they too were doubtful about her ability to help free John.

   "John gave me a job to do, and I've got to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. I care about him. I really do, Delenn, but this has to take priority." Stephen's reply left her furious, as furious as only a Minbari can be. She insisted that he allow Lyta to help her. They would find John and release him themselves, but she was denied even that. Stephen insisted that he needed Lyta for what he had to do, for the undisclosed telepath plan. Lyta, understanding Delenn's feelings, still had to reluctantly agree with the doctor. Neither one of them would help.

   Delenn was livid. "Fine, I will do without your assistance. There must be telepaths on Mars who can help and who are not too busy at this time. Do not put yourselves out in any way." She stormed out of the conference room and into the ruddy light of Mars. She knew that low level, commercial telepaths must be available for hire on Mars. Unfortunately, she expected--and rightly so--that they would fail miserably. After having hired three such disappointments, she determined that she would need a stronger telepath, but where could she find one.

   Delenn tried a discreet note placed on the classified board of the local news: "Wanted: Telepath to help in locating a lost family member. Only P-5 and above need apply. Liberal remuneration, if successful." Delenn had then added the number of her hotel and a blind box at the local mail sector. Only one person had come in response to her ad, and he came with so many "friends" from Psi Corps that Delenn trembled to imagine what would have happened if she had given them an direct link to herself or to her friends.

   Higher level telepaths were obviously going to have connections. Most of them would have connections with Bester. Delenn, swallowing her pride, decided to go directly to the source. She would confront Mr. Bester himself and ask for his help. She approached the Psi Corps building cautiously. Its exterior was a grim metallic gray bearing high up on the side the ever-present black Psi Corps insignia.

   Just standing outside the building, Delenn knew she was already in trouble. She had the unpleasant sensation that someone, person-or-persons-unknown, was looking over her shoulder, coming up behind her, getting ready to pounce. Someone was scanning her. She felt sure of it This had not been a good idea; what had she been thinking? She did not know what to do now. She ran. Running is always a mistake. Within three blocks they had surrounded her and insisted that she "come with them." Captured and angry with herself, the Resistance, Lyta, and Stephen, she had little time to be as frightened as she should have been. She sat in a holding area just inside the Psi Corps building. They had not yet taken her cloak, and her hood still remained firmly in position, guarding her most precious secret. Delenn was one of a kind--part Minbari, part human. Once they realized who she was, she would be here a long, long time--long enough for regrets surely. She had not listened to anyone, but only to her heart.

   As Delenn sat thinking of all the "might-have-been's" in her life, she realized that she was getting very sleepy, and so were all of those around her in the office.

    ----------

   A groggy, repentant Minbari ambassador awoke with a splitting headache somewhere in the tunnels of Mars. "Hold your head still, and it will hurt less," Dr. Franklin advised. "You are very lucky. Lyta decided to follow you, and she was there when they took you in. She risked her own life, her own freedom, to find out where they were holding you. You owe her one, Delenn, a big one."

   She nodded her head in understanding and immediately wished she had not. Whatever kind of gas had been used to immobilize everyone in the Psi Corps holding room, it had some nasty side effects. "Thank you," Delenn said as soon as Lyta entered the portion of the tunnel where she was lying. "I would have been finished without your help."

   "You're welcome." Lyta smiled at her. It was the same soft, sad smile Lyta always wore when forced to do scans and probes and other unwelcome jobs. "You must rest now, and later we will talk about your ideas to free John. If you are going to continue pursuing this course on your own, you will be killed. That will do neither you nor John any good. We will help you, but...there are some things you must understand." Lyta paused. "What Stephen and I are doing is what John wanted done first. We told you this before, Delenn. This is the way John planned it. He knew the risks he was running. He knew how much Clark wanted him."

   Delenn started to shake her head "no," and then thought better of it. *Pain teaches,* she thought. Reluctantly, after much discussion and still exhibiting some of her previous impatience, Delenn agreed to wait for the completion of the "first priority."

    ----------

   "She is a hazard to herself and to all of us," Number One of the Resistance stated bluntly. "The others are furious with her for making us expose some of our people to the Psi Corps. Our resources are limited enough as it is. We cannot waste them before everything is ready. I don't care what 'you' do with her, just keep her out of 'my' way."

   Number One stalked off down the underground passageway grumbling something about "useless romantics." Stephen looked after her and shook his head sadly.

    ----------

   Lyta located a "safe house" for Delenn. It was a very small boarding house on the edge of the Mars Dome where no questions were said to be asked. She and Stephen moved Delenn in without anyone's permission. It was a dingy place with dirty windows and smelly hallways. It was not suitable, but it would do.

   Time on Mars passed slowly for Delenn. The darkness of depression followed her everywhere she went, not that she went very many places. She was very careful now, not wanting to do anything to upset the carefully laid plans of the Mars Resistance, but there came a day when she could not abide the four walls of her room anymore, and she decided to explore. She found, of all things, a garden on Mars. And, in that garden were citrus trees, and the air was filled with the scent of orange blossoms. She breathed deeply of the sweet air, letting it refresh her soul.

   Orange blossoms made Delenn think of John, of the love they shared. She had tried endlessly to contact him since her arrival on Mars. Since that horrible night in the hot springs tub, she had not heard so much as a whisper. There had been no contact between herself and John that she was aware of, though Lyta would have argued that her continued and deepening depression was a part of the bond they shared.

   *What can I send John?* Delenn wondered. *Not my fear, not my anger or frustration.* She searched for something that would mean something just to him, not to anyone else. Something that might seem so innocuous that it might just squeeze through that wall of blackness. *The scent of orange blossoms, a memory of the night he asked her to marry him, asked her to be his wife, the other half of his soul.* It was worth a try.

   Delenn seated herself on an out-of-the-way bench and closed her eyes. She pictured the candle flame she used to meditate and focusing on that flame, she sent her message to John. It did not seem to be doing any good, but she did not stop trying. As she sat sending her images of light against that wall of darkness, she began to hear the words of someone she did not know....

   "Don't you want to leave. Don't you want to be free, to walk through that door, to feel the sun on your face," the voice was saying, and she heard John's reply in a voice so tired it was soft and raspy, "Oh, yes." And, somehow, she was no longer sitting in the sunlit garden; she stood instead in a small room with poor lighting, and John was there. She took a step forward and another. She stood behind and just to the right of the man who had been talking at first, but he did not matter. She only had eyes for John.

   *My love* she pleaded, knowing that he probably would not hear her. He had been hurt--she knew he had been. There were new and fading bruise marks on his too pale skin in many places. Both sides of his face showed red and purple and yellowing flesh, and there was freshly dried blood from his nose on his cracked lips and chin. John twisted his hands fretfully in the thick metal bands that held him imprisoned in a chair made of heavy steel. His wrists and his ankles showed deep cuts and scars from where he had fought the manacles. A medical port, the kind used for intravenous feeding and medication drips, had been inserted in the back of his left hand. He seemed exhausted.

   *John, my love, I'm coming. Hold on.* When he raised his head, there was a haunted look in his eyes. He had been through more than any man should have to go through. "It's all so simple," the interrogator was saying. "Just sign and speak, and you can go free." Delenn sensed John's overpowering need to "end this." She realized looking at the IV port, that he had stopped eating and that they were now force feeding him intravenously. Her heart was ready to break. She longed to take him in her arms and hold him and make this all of this go away, but she could not even move one step further into the room. She could not reach him.

   And, then a miracle happened. John looked up, and he saw her standing there looking at him with love and longing, and heard her words, *John, my love.* He had been cruelly tested. He might or might not have been ready to sign his honor away a moment before, but now he would not. He had, most assuredly, been ready to give up, to surrender, to relinquish his hold on this world, but now there was hope--a reminder of life, a reason to live. *Delenn!*

   "All you have to do is sign," the interrogator was saying, pushing the button that released John's hands. "I know you can do it. I know you want to do it." John looked down at his just-freed hands. He rubbed them together to help restore the circulation. A few moments ago, the interrogator would have been right; now, the interrogator was wrong. John still had a reason to resist. He stood firm one more time. As his vision of Delenn faded, he gathered a pitifully small amount of saliva in his dry mouth and spat on their confession. "No."

   Delenn felt herself fading out of John's cell. She could not maintain the connection any longer. She loved him so very much, and it had been so long since she has seen him, held him. Her mind took in every detail it could: his hair, long and filthy and unkempt; the burn marks under the metal collar circling his neck and bracelets on his wrists; and a beard--scraggily, graying, hiding in part a perfect profile. "And he is so very thin." Delenn could not keep words from forming, though passers-by in the garden looked at her strangely. She had seen his collar bone rising through his skin where his shirt had been left open, his clothing hanging on him in rags and tatters He had lost weight. He had very nearly lost hope, but she had been there just in time.

   An old man, one of the gardeners who worked in the botanical garden, stopped to look at the pretty lady in the white hood who had paused to admire his orange trees. "Beautiful, ain't they!" he smiled at her. "The only ones this side of Earth, and none finer."

   "They are lovely," Delenn said somewhat taken aback. "Do they always flower?"

   "Nope, just this time of year. Give me another three months and I'll be selling fresh oranges in the marketplace." He pointed appreciatively to his trees. "I've raised 'em from seeds I brought from my parents' place on Earth."

   "They are lovely," Delenn repeated and went to turn away. The gardener plucked a small bough of the fragrant orange blossoms and handed it to her ceremoniously.

   "Beauty for beauty," he said gallantly, and when he raised his eyes, Delenn realized that for every human like the soulless creature tormenting John there were a hundred or a thousand who would go about their everyday lives not bothering anyone and making life better wherever they could, sharing their gifts with others.

   Delenn clenched the small spray of orange blossom flowers, the promise of tomorrow, and smiled at the gardener. He smiled back, a unique twisted smile. He was a small man, with graying hair, and scars from many years of work and war. Bearing his gift, she retreated to the "safe house" Lyta had arranged for her...wondering that a spray of orange blossoms could somehow have declared peace in a world that had seemed to know nothing but hostility moments before.

   *Orange blossoms and the promise of tomorrow, John,* she closed her eyes and found his face again...this time she thought only in her memory...*We are here, John. We are coming. Hold on, my love. Hold on."

   

   

Dr. Stephen Franklin sighed and looked away from the havoc he had made of Number One's office. It had been a beast of a job, but it was done. All of the telepaths he and Lyta had transported from Babylon 5 were in position. As soon as the signal was given, the take over of Mars and Earth could begin.

   Lyta stretched and turned to look at Stephen. "Now, finally, let's get the Captain out of there. Only God knows how he's managed to survive this long." Lyta thought of all the carefully prepared signals that they had worked out. None of them had ever been used. There had been no contact with John since his capture. So much for preplanning.

   "One more day," Stephen cautioned her. "One more day to be sure there are no unforeseen problems; so there is no chance of failure." Lyta sighed, too. *It's time for this to be over,* she thought.

    ----------

   Marcus arrived with the White Star fleet, just ahead of the rest of the Army of Light. They were very close to Earth's sphere of influence now. They would be ready when needed. After securing clearance from the Mars Resistance, he piloted a Starfury to an uninhabited sector of Martian terrain, and set off to locate Delenn, the Entil'zha and co-leader of the Rangers.

   Contacting Delenn through the Ranger's informants on Mars was not easy. Her location was one of the most closely guarded secrets on the planet, and no one he talked to had actually seen her. She was there. She was safe. That they knew. They weren't happy about Marcus' insistence that he see her, but they did finally give him the address where she could be found.

   Marcus approached the boarding house cautiously. It was in the seediest part of the city. He would have felt better charging into an entire squad of Earth Force troopers. *At least then, you'd know what you were getting into,* he thought and wrinkled his nose as he walked through the unguarded front door. No one challenged his approach. He knocked on the door to what should be Delenn's room. A quiet voice said, "Come," and the door opened to his gentle push. It was not even locked. Entering, he realized immediately that something was drastically wrong.

   *How despondent she is.* His eyes took in small changes in her face and mean. She was thinner and looked more fragile than a porcelain doll, as if she had not been eating, as if she had been far too long without sleep. Dark circles surrounded her eyes and there were hollows below her prominent cheekbones. When she told him she had been in contact with the Captain, Marcus believed her even though others might not have. She was the Entil'zha, the One; she did not lie.

   Delenn had been reading, Marcus noted, the King James Bible--the New Testament--the Book of John, about "the suffering servant." He noted her bookmark: dried, pressed orange blossoms. Marcus, ever the Ranger, waited for her to command, to explain, but she did not. She simply told him that John's rescue must be soon, or there would be "very little left to rescue."

   "He has held out almost unbelievably. I have helped when I could, but they are using drugs and computer simulations now. He is not always sure who I am when I am able to come to him. They are destroying him by degrees." She wept openly and unashamedly. "He may never be the same again." Marcus gathered her into his arms and patted her on the back as one might a frightened child.

   "Do you know where he is? Have you and Lyta been able to pinpoint a location?" Marcus asked hoping for an idea how difficult this rescue would be.

   Delenn shook her head. "I know it's off 'that way' somewhere"--she indicated a direction toward the industrial part of the Dome--"but I do not have the strength or focusing ability to say exactly where. Lyta,...has been busy."

   Marcus looked at Delenn with disbelief. "She's been busy, too busy to free Sheridan? Bugger that!" Instinctively his hand went to his fighting pike.

   "Marcus, you must try to understand. Doctor Franklin tells me this was John's idea. If Earth Force people are busy with him, they are not being as careful as they should be about the rest of us... especially the Resistance. There are a great many people- -telepaths and others--preparing to eliminate President Clark's hold on Mars and Earth. John wants it to be as bloodless as possible. Stephen tells me timing is everything. We must be patient. It's just so very hard...." Her voice trailed off.

   "Delenn, you said you 'come to him.' How do you do that?" Marcus was not one to be patient. He was already planning.

   "It is not easy to explain. I think of John, and sometimes, not always, I am able to touch him--to touch his mind. I send him what courage and comfort I can. And, I send him my love always."

   Delenn flinched in Marcus's arms, and he helped her to a nearby seat. "Delenn, this works two ways doesn't it?" She nodded her head, "Yes."

   "Yes," Delenn repeated. "It works both ways. It took me a while to understand. I send John what strength I can to help him to endure, and I...I feel what he feels when he is at the end of his ability to cope. Somehow I feel what he is enduring: it is usually emotion, but occasionally I get images, and once, Marcus, I was in the room with him and the interrogator for just a little while. I do not know if he is blocking his feelings the rest of the time, so that I will not need to know all that he is going through, or whether his captors have special telepaths employed to create a barrier to make him harder to locate. I suspect it is a little of both."

   "And it has been very bad lately, hasn't it?" asked Marcus, tipping her head back and looking deeply into her exhausted eyes.

   "Yes," she admitted. "They are letting him get almost no sleep now, and somehow they have created a sound that is just too painful to listen to. He fears that he will be blind or deaf or both by the time he is released."

   "And...." Marcus hated pushing her, but there had to be more to create this storm of tears on her part.

   "Marcus, there have been times he has prayed to die. I do not know if his god has heard him, but I have." She sank down in a huddle of dejection, trembling slightly. He tried to reach out and comfort her, but she withdrew from his hand and simply shook her head. There were no more tears, they had all been spent. She simply stared with red eyes at the Bible lying on the table before her.

   *Oh, my god,* thought Marcus, * They got two for the price of one, and I'd bet every credit I've got those buggers at Earth Force don't even know they've done it. She's felt almost all of it, especially the worst bits, with him.*

   Marcus left Delenn for just a moment, stepping outside the room to establish a link with the Resistance forces. "I need to see the doctor right now. I don't care if he's busy with another case. I need him now, my wife's expecting a baby you know." Not quite the agreed upon code for operating on Mars, but close enough that Stephen should come or send a courier immediately. Delenn was "wife" in the simple code they had agreed upon. So, hopefully, Franklin would come himself.... He needed to see what these three weeks had done to the Minbari ambassador.

   Marcus returned to the small room Delenn had been living in and settled himself on the window ledge. "Feeling any better?" he asked.

   "A little, thank you."

   "Good. Now tell me, what have you learned in your reading?" Talking wasn't great therapy, but it sure as hell beat not talking when you were bottling up as much as Delenn had been these past few weeks waiting for John to be rescued. *The miracle is that she didn't just take off 'that-a-way' and start searching for him herself.*

   By the time Stephen and Lyta arrived with an ambulance--to take the expecting lady to the hospital, of course--Marcus and Delenn were in the middle of a discussion of Earth religions. The concept of the crucified and risen Christ, "the suffering servant," had involved Delenn more so than Marcus would ever have expected.

   "Lyta," said Marcus glad to see the two of them enter the drab little room, "why don't you sit here and hold Delenn's hand for a few minutes, and Stephen and I'll go boil some water. Isn't that what expectant papa's are supposed to do?"

   Marcus's plan was two-fold: one--he wanted to talk to Stephen privately, and two--he hoped that once Lyta had made physical contact with Delenn she'd sense the tremendous struggle Delenn had been going through. Lyta's confirmation of Delenn's contact with John would carry far more weight than his own suppositions and observations. *How the hell could they have gotten too busy to notice something like that?* Marcus wondered.

   Lyta removed her gloves and tucked them into her belt. She sat down beside Delenn on the bed and reached out. Reluctantly, Delenn placed her hand in Lyta's but refused to raise her eyes. Lyta's first reaction was to let go, and she very nearly did. There was so much pain in Delenn's mind and so much anger, and so very much frustration. Slowly Lyta began sorting through the jumble of images; almost absent- mindedly she waved Marcus and Stephen out of the room.

   Once in the hallway outside the room, Marcus began to castigate the doctor. "Stephen, have you been over here at all to see her, since you found her this 'safe place.'"

   Stephen shook his head. "We've been busy."

   "Too damn busy to notice that she was dying by degrees. And if I'm right, and she has established a direct link to John, then he is dying too." Marcus' tone was so bitter and his words so unexpected that Stephen was completely taken aback.

   "How could Delenn be linked to John? How could she know if he were dying? She loves him and she wants to help free him, but she really can't do anything here. She's just been in the way more or less."

   Marcus hit Stephen, just once on the chin. The doctor went backwards, hit the wall, and sank ungracefully into a sitting position against the dirt-stained wallpaper. None of the other tenants even peeked out their doors to see what was going on. Stephen shook his head and rubbed his jaw. "What the hell was that for?"

   "Delenn just happens to be the most valuable person on this planet right now, that is if you want John Sheridan alive and back when this is over with." Stephen started to protest and Marcus waved away his objections. "Yeah, she told me that it was his idea to keep EarthForce's attention off of the rest of you, but do you have any idea what he has been going through? Walk in that room and take a good look at her. She's going through all the same psychological garbage he is, and it's been tearing her apart. She's been reading the Bible for God's sake, trying to discover why he has prayed to die."

   Stephen could find no words against such an onslaught of feelings. Marcus' fury was certainly real. *Could this be true?*

   "They are both very nearly done for. Stephen, if the 'grand plan' isn't ready by now it either isn't going to be, or this war is going to have two more casualties. And I care about both of them."

   Marcus turned and stalked down the hallway to the small communal kitchen that served all the rooms on this floor. True to his word he put water in the kettle and settled it on the back burner of the small stove to heat. He sank into a preformed chair at the table in the corner of the kitchen and rested his head in his hands. Moments later, Stephen joined him.

   "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

   "Well, now you do. What are we going to do about it?" Marcus retorted.

   "First we're going to get her out of here and back with the rest of the Resistance, and then I think it's time we go and get the Captain. Will you help?" Stephen asked.

   "You couldn't keep me away," Marcus replied, still not happy. "And, you're not going to be able to keep her away either. Whatever kind of rescue mission you're planning, she's got to be there. She's got to see for herself."

   "That's not a good idea," Stephen glared at Marcus. He was supposed to be in charge of this operation. "She's weak. She'll slow us down."

   "Hear me out, Stephen. Then, if you need to, let Lyta confirm it. She's not any weaker than John is going to be. The only reason John Sheridan hasn't been on ISN reading his confession for all the galaxy to see is the lady sitting in that room. She has been his 'touchstone.' The one thing that has kept him sane and given him a reason to live through all of this. The bastards holding him have apparently used some kind of telepathic barrier to keep us from locating him, but they couldn't create an empathetic one. The relationship John and Delenn share is one of empathy. They love each other, and there is nothing in the universe on this planet or any other that is stronger than the tie they have built between them. I don't know if they've slept together, I don't care. It's none of my business, and it's none of yours. If you ask her, so help me, I'll knock your block off." Marcus finally came up for air.

   "The problem with their bond is that it's apparently been working both ways. He feels her love and strength and doesn't given in; she feels all his pain and anger and frustration. She even told me before about having been ill on her ship coming to Mars. You want to bet Stephen that they were using purgatives on John about then. He'd been in their hands about four days then. How long have they had him now, Stephen? How many days?"

   "Twenty-nine. Did you really think I hadn't been counting?" Stephen looked tired.

   "Let's say, I hoped you had." Marcus met Stephen's gaze, "Now, let's get some tea in there for the ladies and act like we've just had a pleasant chat." Marcus poured hot water into cracked cups found on the communal shelves and he and Stephen each carried two back to Delenn's room.

   "Do you still have any of those delightful teaballs left, Delenn, or do I need to resort to my Earl Grey?" the Ranger asked, carefully placing the two cups he had been carrying on the hard plastic table near Lyta and Delenn.

   "In the small bag, by the window. You should find at least two different kinds, Lennier was generous when he slipped them into my packing." A small, hesitant smile touched just the very corners of her mouth. Stephen fetched the teaballs, and Marcus distributed them one to a cup, noting that Delenn and Lyta were still touching...although not holding hands. He waited until all of them had had a chance to sip some of the hot liquid before going on.

   "I, sort of, explained to Stephen that you and John had been in touch with each other. I'm not sure I did a very good job of it, do you want to tell him anything about it?"

   Delenn looked at Marcus; the fear was back behind her eyes. "Do I have to?"

   "Not if you don't want to," Stephen spoke up. "I've heard of people having empathetic links before, but it is unusual for one to be an on-going phenomenon. Are you always aware of the Captain?"

   "Not always, Doctor. I am aware when he needs me, and I try to be there. It is not always easy--usually it is emotions. Did Marcus tell you that?" Delenn allowed Lyta to take her hand and hold it with both of her own. Lyta's hands felt warm and comforting to Delenn.

   "Sometimes," she went on, "I see and hear things, as if I am looking through John's eyes and hearing with his ears. It is very strange and somewhat disorienting, but it does not happen often enough to be a cause for concern." She sat prim and up-right in her chair. The tea did seem to have helped. "Once, just once, I was in the room with him. That was the best and the worst: the best, because I got to see him and know that he was alive, and the worst, because I could not touch him or help him, and he was so alone.

   Stephen made up his mind. "Delenn, I'm going to tell you something, and it is very important that you do not pass this on to John, not yet. We are going in after him tonight, and the people who hold him must not be warned in any way that we are coming. Do you understand? Do you want to go with us?"

   Tears formed in Delenn's eyes--not sad tears, tears of relief. She had waited so very long to hear these words.... It had been just over two weeks since she had "seen" John, and over two months since they had touched. "Yes!" she said. "Yes, I will go."

   Tea finished, the group prepared to evacuate Delenn. Stephen and Lyta laid out a folding stretcher. Delenn--one of her bed pillows transforming her into a fair approximation of an very expectant mother--was strapped to the stretcher. She hated the straps but knew they were necessary to the subterfuge. There had been too many straps and manacles in her dreams lately. They decided that Marcus--the panic-stricken caller of, was it only, an hour before--would hover anxiously over her to prevent others from becoming too curious. He also dropped a handful of credits on the table to discourage the management from making inquiries into their guests unexpected departure. Marcus, being Marcus, scooped up the Bible and added it to the other scant items in Delenn's traveling bag. Lyta and Stephen lifted the stretcher, and Marcus held the door as they departed the "safe house."

   No one in the boarding house bothered to check out the commotion, any more than they had the sound of Marcus' blow earlier. A few people on the street stopped to stare as pedestrians always do. Marcus kept wiping her brow with his largish handkerchief and telling her that they would get her husband to the hospital as quickly as possible. Lyta even smiled at that bit of fiction.... "Husband" was, of course, the code name for John.

   "Looks like she's going to deliver a bit early. Should be okay though!" Marcus brightly told the on-lookers. Several smiled and wished her well. Squeezing her eyes shut, Delenn let out a low and very genuine groan of pain which quickly sent the well- wishers scattering, and hurried Lyta and Stephen as they deposited her in the ambulance.

   "May I ride in the back with her?" Marcus inquired hopefully. Stephen nodded.

   "I think the nurse might better ride with her also," Stephen said, indicating Lyta. "Don't want this little one delivered before we get to our destination now do we?" The doctor patted Delenn's hand. She opened her eyes for just a moment, and Stephen was very nearly mesmerized by the depth of love and pain he saw there. She was obviously in contact with John now, right now, and all was not well. "Let's get this show on the road," he said to no one in particular.

   Stephen joined the driver in the front of the ambulance, and they left with the usual flourish of sirens and lights. After a few blocks they only used the lights at intersections, and after about a mile, they dropped the pretense of being "en route" to the hospital completely. Meanwhile in the back, Lyta and Marcus unstrapped Delenn but let her remain lying on the stretcher. Lyta tucked the pillow under her head. Her hand brushed Delenn's forehead ever so gently, and the image of agony that transferred unwittingly was so powerful that she pulled it back as if she had been burnt. "I think," Delenn panted, "they are using electrical shocks again. It's hard to be sure. He's trying very hard to 'buy you time,' but he keeps thinking 'the coin of the realm is pain.' Does that make any sense?" Code words, code phrases, that meant "come and get me." "Please come and get me." Lyta and Marcus both nodded. Marcus took her hand and continued to brush her forehead from time to time with the large square of white linen he used for a handkerchief.

   John had expected telepaths to be used to locate and free him. He had known he would have to hold out for a while, but Marcus wondered, had he ever bargained for so very many days. "Buying time" was the code phrase for John's capture. It was to be used to let telepaths know that they had actually reached the Captain, and "the coin of the realm is pain" was the phrase agreed upon to signal that they needed to get him out of there now, that he wasn't sure he could hold on any longer.

   "Has he been thinking about that for a long time, Delenn?" Lyta asked casually.

   "Yes, at least for the last week, ten days, he has thought about that almost every time I have been in contact, as if it is on his mind all the time." Delenn continued, "Funny, he's thought about how he's been 'buying time' since the very first time we were in contact--whenever he was hurt, but he never used that other phrase until one day in the middle of last week. He's used it every time since. What does it mean? Is it significant that he chooses those words?"

   "Yes, Delenn. It means we're doing the right thing going in to get him as soon as possible," Lyta responded. Marcus could not find words. He could not imagine spending ten days of torment sending the message that was supposed to free oneself and having it go unanswered. What could John possibly think had happened to the rest of them? Would he think they had chosen not to come? Would he ever believe that they had been too stupid to talk to or listen to the only person who was really in contact with him?

   

   

At the Resistance base camp, Delenn was fed some hearty food and a couple of stims by one of Dr. Franklin's assistants. They were all outfitted with PPGs and ruddy brown night-fighting fatigues suitable for deep space: not so black that one disappeared against the stars, not so colorful as to catch an enemy's eye. Delenn was encouraged to rest, but could not. She wanted to go to him as soon as possible, but--she sat down very quickly and nearly missed the chair when they told her--John was no longer at the detention center in Mars Dome. That news was a shock to Delenn. No wonder their link had been so tenuous lately. That didn't matter now. All that mattered now was locating him and getting him back.

   *Where was John, if he wasn't here?* Stephen didn't know nor did the Resistance. They only knew that he had been removed on an Earth Force shuttle just two days before. He had apparently been unconscious at the time, and it was doubtful if he even knew they had moved him. Delenn and the others watched a recording made by the Resistance at a very great distance of John being loaded, like a bag of sand or flarn, into an old-style shuttle. It was suitable only for short trips.

   *Unless they changed ships, we know he's still within the solar system, probably still on Mars, but where? Would they have been stupid enough to take him to Earth? ...To make it an even bigger target for the White Stars and the Army of Light?* Marcus wondered. *If I was Clark, where would I have sent him? To the rings of Saturn, to the ice fields of Pluto, to the furthest outpost of Earth in this solar system? To Io?* None of those seemed practical. *Where could they have taken him on Mars? Not anywhere he'd be easy to find, that was for sure.*

   Marcus remembered the observatory complexes established near the axis points at Mars' north and south poles. Could they possibly have taken him to such a place? He tried his idea out on some of the other Rangers. They all agreed it was a possibility and one worth looking into quickly. In less than twelve hours, the reports were in: Captain Sheridan was at the north observatory complex in one of the absolutely worst places possible. It had apparently been converted into a high-security detention complex, and it was located mostly underground in the midst of the Martian ice cap. There was a civilian population there aboveground as well, manning the large telescopes that mapped the galaxy and made it nearly impossible to approach unannounced.

   It would change their plans, but not completely. In small groups, no more than three in any one group, the entire task force that was setting out to free the Captain traveled to the dome complex closest to the pole. Lyta and Delenn traveled together as nuns of one of the lesser orders coming from Earth to do penance. Susan and Stephen came as newlyweds. Marcus and some of his Ranger friends traveled as businessmen and prospectors. They staggered their arrival times over the next two days, attempting not to alert Clark's forces and send them into flight again. If they took John off planet, he'd be even harder to find.

   At last they were all ready. Quickly scrounged winter gear was shared among the group. Travelling by landrover to the approximate area where Delenn indicated she could sense John's presence, they ran over their plan: First they would identify the structure within the complex where Captain Sheridan was held, then three teams would go into action. Team one consisted of a group of volunteer pilots manning a diverse collection of ships--several old Starfuries flown by people who remember Sheridan from his younger days on Mars, a couple of transports loyal to the ideal Babylon 5 was trying to uphold, an aging shuttle craft long-since taken over by the Resistance, and six Thunderbolts from the *Agamemnon.* The *Agamemnon* pilots had all been trained by and served under John when he commanded that ship. He was their "Captain" as much as he was Ivanova's. Their job was to make one pass over the frigid base, dropping noise and smoke bombs which would hopefully convince any civilians to stay indoors and out of the danger area. Team two, traveling by landrover like Franklin's group, would take up position just outside the complex. They would be prepared to disperse mortar-type rounds to take out pin-point targets and allow access to the building. Team three consisting of Marcus, Stephen, Delenn, Lyta, Susan, and six other Rangers would make the actual incursion into the structure and bring the captain out, alive. Sheridan's own White Star, waiting in hyperspace just outside of Mars' orbit, would blanket the entire area with white noise to prevent radio communication among the enemy, and the Rangers would secure their route in and out of the complex. On paper it had looked good. Marcus shivered: out here it looked like good ideas held together with spiderweb and spit.

   "Time?" Delenn asked, removing her heavy mittens and wiping her hands on the slacks of her fatigues. Wearing slacks was definitely a different experience, but if this worked, it would be more than worth it. Delenn pushed back the hood of her parka--it too was white, like the one she had worn in MarsDome. Lyta nodded, and the two turned to face each other and clasped hands firmly.

   *John, think of me, and I will hear!* Delenn used the only means she knew to reach him. She opened her heart. Lyta was astonished, as always when linking purposefully with Delenn, at the strength and depth of Delenn's mental images. Lyta had been trying to reach the Captain by herself since she had first reached Mars and had continued trying to do so since they had reached the polar region. She had redoubled her efforts realizing how badly things were going and knowing how much their delays could be costing John. She had had no luck.

   *John, we are here...here to get you...to take you home." Still there was no response. For a very short moment Lyta allowed herself to think the worst. *No!* Delenn promptly responded in kind. *If he were gone, I would know. He is the other half of my soul." That last sentence had touched something. Lyta felt it, too.

   *Come on, John. If you're going to fall off a cliff, you might as well try to fly....* Delenn conjured the picture in her mind of John's face in his log when he had recorded his love for her, and with it she sent her own love for him, *I will catch you if you fall.* And the bond was established. Lyta stared at the petite Minbari in front of her, there was no white hood now to hide the bonecrest and flowing hair. Who could have imagine so much power in an empathetic contact?

   Swiftly Lyta and Delenn established which one of the domed buildings was the one that housed the entrance to the detention center. That would be there fastest route to John and his guards. When Lyta tried to scan it, she ran up against that black wall Delenn had spoken of earlier--a shield of telepaths or something mechanical being used to block all telepathic communications from that site. It was, of course, a prison intended for top security cases, maybe even for rogue telepaths. She shivered and adjusted the rebreather masks they each had to wear to protect their lungs from the intense cold.

   Lyta and Delenn maintained their link, but dropped behind the landrover they had used as Marcus called in the coordinates of the site. Stephen and Susan were already undercover nearby, and Marcus simply spread himself flat on the ground as the low flying "Starfuries and friends," as he had dubbed them, barraged the area with what looked like Armageddon but was in fact mostly show. Civilian workers swiftly evacuated the area as air raid sirens screamed through the night. Sonic booms denoted the passage of some of the faster ships now long out of range of the complex's defenses.

   Confusion made good cover. The group of eleven headed swiftly for the prison entrance. "Help, let us in! We need to take shelter," Susan hollered at the top of her lungs.

   "I'm a doctor." Stephen asserted, "I have to get these wounded under cover." Several of the Rangers were holding red-stained bandages to their heads and arms. In some cases the bandages successfully hid their weapons. Lyta and Delenn crouched towards the back of the group hoping to remain unnoticed until the last possible moment. Delenn had refused all attempts at disguise. She wanted John to recognize her instantly. They still held the link with him, but it was a tenuous one. Through it Delenn was aware of sounds and lights and horrifying odors. She vomited, leaving most of her dinner and some unabsorbed portion of the stims Stephen had given her before leaving the landrover on the hard-packed snow outside the gate.

   The steely-eyed guard at the gate held his ground for only a minute and then relented. Removing his heavy gloves, he unlocked the outer portal. Delenn was bent over trying desperately not to throw up again as they passed by the guard. He noted the pretty red-head helping her friend and never gave the Minbari ambassador a glance. Lyta was grateful for not having to expend the energy to make him ignore them. One of the Rangers slipped in behind the guard, and he was swiftly incapacitated. Minbari fighting pikes are good for that. The Ranger, his face a perfect mask of calm, took up a post at the gate. Here he would stay until they all returned.

   Marcus and the other Rangers entered the main building and waited for some guidance from Delenn and Lyta. "Down," said Lyta, "Two floors, maybe more. God, this place is like a rat's nest." Delenn could not have agreed more.

   Most of the night shift guards, Earth Force personnel who specialized in inventing ways to dehumanize and hurt people and whose main job seemed to be seeing to it that prisoners did not sleep, had been delegated to the main defenses of the complex located on the building's roof. It was a fairly simple job for a few Rangers to bottle them up there. The others headed down the ramp to the lower levels. Two levels, three. The entire building shuddered, shaken by an explosion at or near the roof. Marcus smiled bitterly, that was one group of Earth Force sadists who weren't going to torment anyone else again.

   John's would-be rescuers reached the lowest level. They had met with surprisingly little resistance. They must not have increased staff, hoping to hide John more effectively that way. Marcus looked to Lyta for direction, but Delenn was the one who pointed unerringly to the left. There were so many cells, so many small dark rooms. They paused, all of them, outside the one Delenn and Lyta indicated was John's. "I do not know what we're going to find for sure...," Marcus began.

   "There is an interrogator in there now with him," Lyta and Delenn confirmed.

   "...Then the first person through the door needs to take that interrogator--man or woman--down, no questions asked, no quarter given," Marcus continued. "These people will kill John without hesitation if they think they're going to lose him. We can't give them that option. Everybody understand."

   "Lyta, I'll need you at the bottom of the ramp scanning for anyone coming down or even thinking about coming down here. I can't believe they've been this arrogant, holding the Captain with such a small force. There may be unexpected visitors dropping in." Lyta squeezed Delenn's hands before reluctantly releasing them. *Bring him out safely,* Lyta thought to Delenn. She was rewarded with a nod and a small bow. Her message had been received. Lyta smiled.

   Susan stepped forward. "My turn," she said. Her PPG was in her hand and ready.

   The door lock was a simple one--a numeral keypad arranged to be used by many different people. As soon as Marcus zapped it with his PPG, the door opened with a clang. The interrogator looked up. It was the last thing he ever did. Susan opened fire from a semi-kneeling position. He fell across the table between himself and John, knocking over lights and sound equipment in a shower of sparks. A deafening silence followed.

    ----------

   The door opened. John sat manacled in a heavy metal chair facing his interrogator. He could not see who was there; his head was held firmly in place by metal rods that made it impossible for him to move it to the left or right, up or down. It looked to Susan like something out of Pre-History, from the Spanish Inquisition maybe. Despite the inhibiting construction, John did see the interrogator collapse across the desktop as a PPG blast ripped into the room.

   John's rescuers quickly crowded into the room, making sure that there were no other guards or personnel present. Stephen checked the interrogator. He was dead before he hit the floor; Susan's aim had been accurate and deadly. Marcus checked the overhead viewing area knowing that various recordings were often made from there. Observers often monitored an interrogation from such places, too. If anyone had been there, they were gone now. Each one of them made it a point to be sure that John saw that they were there, that they had come for him. John stared at them. *His people, here! Delenn, Susan, Stephen, and even Marcus*

    ----------

   Marcus and Stephen took up defensive positions crouching on either side of the door. Marcus scanned the hallway with Ranger-trained eyes. Nothing moved. It seemed to be clear. None of the opposition were in sight. Could they "all" have gone up to man the roof defenses?

   Delenn and Susan went straight to John. They released his wrists. It was a simple bolt mechanism, impossible to reach if you were the one seated in the chair. Delenn gasped looking at the new cuts and gashes on John's wrists. She would never know all of it. She knew too much now.

   An explosion somewhere else in the building rocked even this subterranean chamber threatening to topple John's chair. Between them Susan and Delenn steadied it. "Oh, my love, my sweet love, are you all right?" Delenn was somewhere between laughing and crying as she released the many metal impediments that had been holding John's head so horribly fixed. His chin sagged a bit, as he was released from the tension of the bonds, and then his eyes came up. He focused on her. He knew she was here. This was the moment, the reason, Delenn had come. "John, we're going to take you home. We're going to get you out of here now."

   John realized that Delenn's mouth was moving, but he could not hear anything she was saying. That too should pass; it had last time. The cacophony of sound had been simply too much for the body to endure; so it had shut down. He just looked at her. She was so beautiful. The beginning of a smile tried to form on his face.

   While Susan still struggled with the ankle manacles John caught Delenn's face between his hands and brought it down to his own. He kissed her, and with that kiss said all of the words of love she had waited so very long to hear. As kisses go, it was more a matter of intention than intensity. He loved her so much, and he was so tired. She kissed him back and patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. She was reluctant to let go, afraid he might disappear if she looked away. Susan grinned and continued her attempt to release him from the chair. The locking mechanism that controlled the heavy metal bands around his ankles had apparently jammed when the controlling desktop had been destroyed. In frustration she kicked the left manacle, which promptly released both itself and the one on his other leg as well.

   "When in doubt, 'Kick it!" Susan quoted, smiling broadly; she hadn't missed the kiss, and it made her feel good, really good inside, just to see the two of them back together.

   Now they could leave, but the doctor had wanted to check the Captain out first. Susan and Stephen traded places so that he could run a quick medical scan on John. They didn't want to hurt him while trying to help him.

   "Is he going to be all right?" Delenn asked worriedly. "He hasn't reacted to anything I've said so far, except the once." The Minbari ambassador began to blush, and Stephen smiled knowing she meant the kiss. Delenn felt the color rising in her cheeks. *I guess getting kissed is something I am going to have to get used to,* she thought. She was, however, worried about John. He looked so pale, so thin, so tired.

   Stephen ran his medical scanner carefully over John's body. "He should be okay to move. He's not in good shape by any means, but he should be able to travel under his own power getting out of here." There were things he didn't share with Delenn--the broken ribs, possibly cracked vertebrae, severe multiple concussions. Malnutrition and dehydration went without saying. Those things could wait until they had him back in a Medlab someplace. "I don't think he's hearing anything any of us are saying just now, Delenn. Sensory overload can do that, but there doesn't seem to be any damage to the auricular nerves. " He looked at the captain. The man had been badly used for several weeks he had lost a lot of weight and looked like hell, but he had held on. He was alive.

   Delenn nodded her thanks, but did not withdraw. Having been apart from him so long, she could not bear to leave his side. Stephen, having assessed the extent of John's internal injuries, decided that it would be safe to offer his patient water which the scan had indicated he needed desperately. He measured out a small cupful of the tepid water, using the cup that came with his med.-canteen. He braced the back of John's head with his arm and held the cup high enough that the Captain was forced to take the liquid in small swallows. He drank greedily. After each swallow, Stephen would tip the cup back a bit, making John take the liquid slowly and in small amounts.

   If eyes are the windows to the soul, then John Sheridan's soul was filled with gratitude when he looked towards the doctor and unmistakably with love when he searched for and found Delenn. When the small cup of water was emptied, Stephen gave John a thumbs-up sign. "Time to go home, Captain," he said quietly.

   Delenn helped Stephen get John on his feet. It was not an easy task The Captain's legs were not used to carrying the weight of his body, even as decreased as it was. He had been in that chair forever. *No, not forever,* Stephen thought, *just for a whole lot of days,* He knew when he examined John in his office in privacy there would be unspeakable sores and lesions to treat. It would be a long time before he sat comfortably anywhere. Taking John's arm over his shoulders, Stephen supported most of his weight.

   Marcus and Susan checked the corridor. Still no sign of the enemy. Still no signal from Lyta. John was beginning to pay attention to what was going on around him now; he saw the formation they were planning and approved. Susan and Marcus were up front with drawn PPG's, he and Stephen would go next, and Delenn would be behind them all where she'd be protected. John leaned heavily on Stephen. It took him a moment or two to realize that Delenn was not behind them for protection. She was their rearguard. She, too, held a PPG and seemed more than willing to use it. As John watched, his eyes widening, Delenn moved the setting from stun to kill. This beautiful woman, the Ambassador from Minbar and the love of his life, was prepared to kill someone to free him. It was a very sobering thought. His eyes clouded ever so slightly in pain. He still could not hear any of them when they spoke to him, but he knew there was something he had to say. Enunciating carefully, he spoke in a voice scarcely louder than a whisper, "Thank you." The others were amazed to hear him speak, albeit only those few words.

   "Thank you." It was little more than a croak from an abused and still dry throat, but they all smiled knowing that John truly meant what he had said..

    ----------

   The trip back to the surface--back to life, back to the battle for Earth that they meant to win--happened very quickly. No one wasted any more time than was necessary. Lyta waited for them at the base of the ramp to the surface, signaling silently that all was still clear. John continued to be surprised as more and more faces joined the group heading for the surface. He realized that many of them were Rangers--Delenn's Rangers, his Rangers. A few bore small injuries, but they all seemed interested in only one thing, getting out of here. That came first, and worrying about details could come later.

   The higher in the complex they went, the colder the air became. One of the Rangers produced a heavy coat with hood and helped Stephen get the captain into it. It fit loosely, but Stephen thought, the extra space would be extra insulation. John's system didn't need any more shocks--thermal or otherwise.

   As they approached the now broached doorway to the complex, Stephen fitted a rebreather mask over John's face and then his own, as the others did the same. It was a short run to the landrovers and overland to their shuttle, but none of them were taking chances. John couldn't understand the need for rebreather masks, unless something had gone drastically wrong with the atmosphere on Mars.

   The run to the vehicles took the last of John's strength. He could not believe the white world he had emerged into. His eyes watered almost continuously from the brightness. He could not see where he was going, but he trusted the strong hands and arms guiding him.

   John collapsed in the back of the landrover with Delenn holding his head and Lyta and Stephen working to bandage the most vulnerable of his injuries, those that would be exacerbated by possible high-G evasive maneuvers as they left the surface. They removed his parka and what was left of his shirt was stripped off and discarded. His ribs were swiftly taped, and his body covered with a heavy sweater Susan had scrounged from God-knows-where. *That should help his breathing,* Stephen thought, easing John back into the cold-weather gear.

   Their shuttle craft was guarded by still more Rangers and not a few of the Army of the Light crew from John's White Star. Minbari and human crew members stood together. The Earth-Minbari war was definitely over for this crew, and the war to free Earth from Clark's dictatorship was approaching endgame. The Rangers helped load John onto the shuttle, finding him a reclining seat that would absorb many of the stresses of takeoff. The crew had a private bet going that they could lift off without making the Captain black out. Delenn and others, overhearing their bet, hoped their skills were commiserate with their bravado and faith in themselves.

   As soon as everyone was aboard, hatches were sealed and rebreathers removed. John drew a deep breath of ship's air, wincing at the pain in his now-taped ribs. It smelled wonderful though something still stank. He suspected it was him.

   Delenn, who had been thanking the Minbari and human Rangers, came forward into the cabin portion of the shuttle. She sank wearily into the seat beside John, expecting to find him asleep. He was not. She saw that he had been staring out the port.

   To John his rescue was a blur of emotions and faces and fears. They had left the room, the compound, and--within what felt like only a matter of moments to him--the planet. Looking back from space, he realized that he hadn't been moved too terribly far from where he had been captured. He had still been on Mars, though not near MarsDome or any of the population centers.

   *Who would have thought to come looking for me under a polar ice cap?* Below the rapidly rising shuttle craft hung the glittering whiteness of the Martian glaciers. He shivered despite the warmth of the shuttle cabin. *No wonder it took them so long to find me. The miracle is that they ever did.*

   From the expression on his face Delenn could tell that John recognized the Martian terrain below. He had after all been stationed at Mars for a short time several years before. She did not think, until that moment, that John had really understood where Clark had had him imprisoned.

   *Well, it came as a shock to us, too,* she rationalized. *Thank goodness for Marcus' intuition.* She shuddered realizing that without Marcus' clear head and reasoning, they could very well still have been searching for John. Finding him could have taken time they did not have to spend.

   As Delenn watched John, she sensed a great tension within him. Then she realized that his captor's had "let him escape" before. They had used computerized simulations to take him to the brink of freedom again and again and again. He had played out the same events endlessly. Each time when they brought him back to the reality of that small dark room, the return was more painful than the time before. It had become so painful that much as he longed to escape--he feared venturing beyond his cell. The pain of being still in their hands grew worse the closer to freedom he had let himself come. They had drugged him and encouraged him to hallucinate until he really did not know where reality began and ended sometimes. His tormentors did not know what he saw when he hallucinated, but they knew it hurt him, and that was their goal.

   John looked at Delenn beside him. He wanted to believe she was really there. His eyes drank in her beauty. No matter what it cost him, it was worth it to see her so close. He wondered why he didn't smell orange blossoms. Instead, he smelled...wet wool?

   He just kept watching her, trying not to blink or let his exhausted eyes stray. Delenn realized, he was expecting her to disappear, expecting the ship and his rescue to be an illusion, a falsehood perpetrated by his captors. His white-knuckled hands gripped the armrests of his seat as they would have been forced to grip the arms of the chair he had left behind in his cell. It was as if invisible manacles were still in place. He was holding onto sanity by such a slender thread. *Oh, John, I love you so.*

   John Sheridan tried to relax. He tried to make himself believe he was free. It didn't work. He leaned back in the reclining seat of the shuttle and willed his eyes to close. They would not. He told himself that it was safe here. He was among friends. He could let go, but still he felt himself desperately holding on. He was not letting his guard down, not even here. Some part of him was waiting for the next blow to fall, waiting for reality to turn fluid again and leave him drowning or falling endlessly. Then he felt Delenn's hand resting lightly on his arm. He watched as she took his hand in hers, interlacing her fingers with his. His grip was so tight, it hurt her fingers, but she did not let go.

   "You need to rest now." Delenn informed him. "I will hold on for both of us, and watch while you sleep. John," she promised, "I will be here when you awaken." How or why he understood her, she did not know, only that he did. John, himself, was never sure afterward if he read her lips, heard her words inside of his head, or simply knew from her touch that he was safe. He only knew it would be all right. He smiled at her--a lopsided grin prevented from forming completely by his injuries. His hands relaxed their desperate grip. With a conscious effort and a deep breath, he let go. As Delenn watched, his eyelids began to fall. He was asleep nearly before his eyes finished closing.

   ----------

   By unspoken agreement, the others had let John and Delenn share the privacy of the shuttle's small cabin. After a bit, Marcus glanced in to check on them: the Entil'zha and the Captain. They were both asleep. John was snoring softly. Delenn smiled as she slept, his hand cradled in her lap, their fingers like their souls intertwined. They meant more to him than anything else.

   *All bets are off. All debts cancelled,* Marcus thought. *The price has been paid, in full.* He shut the cabin door.

   

   [END]

 

*****

 

 

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