CRISIS OF FAITH

By Cheri Hathaway

 

 

 

   Spoilers: Potentially, this contains spoilers for the entire B5 canon as it exists today. This could be an episode in the mythical, nonexistent sixth season of the program.

   Disclaimer: Babylon Five, the Interstellar Alliance, Earthforce, and all the humans and aliens within that Universe belong to Warner Brothers. I'm just telling a story.

 

 

 

 

*****

   Chapter One

   In Enemy Hands

   

   "What the hell is going on?" John Sheridan half rose out of his chair.

   No one answered him. P.P.G. fire sounded in the plaza outside the building.

   Around the table frightened faces looked up at him. Thomas Dodson, the planetary Governor, and his wife Emily were seated at the head of the lavish banquet table with John Sheridan, the President of the Interstellar Alliance and his wife Delenn. Down either side of the elaborate table, John could see bureaucrats, civil servants, and employees of the mining corporation that controlled much of the planet. They all looked scared, scared to death.

   "What is going on?" John demanded again, looking directly at Tom Dodson. The man was in charge of the planet. He should know if anyone did.

   Governor Dodson shook his head. He was not a young man. Before he could even begin to respond, the carved wooden doors to the banquet hall--doors John and Delenn had admired and commented on upon entering the room only an hour before--were thrown back with such force that every piece of crystal and silver in the room trembled with the vibration.

   A dozen hooded and masked figures lost no time pouring through the opened doors. The invaders were armed and ready, ready for trouble no one in the room seemed eager to give them. The hum of charging energy caps sounded loud in the stillness of the hall. There was more firing now just outside the room, in the foyer of Government House itself.

   John Sheridan, finally, finished coming to his feet. He was the only person in the room who had done so. Behind his chair and Delenn's their ceremonial honor guards, Rangers acting as bodyguards, recognized and moved to counter the threat to the President and First Lady. Weapons were drawn, but it was too late. Deadly P.P.G. fire lanced across the room underscoring the fact these invaders were now in control.

   John's eyes glanced quickly around the room sizing up the situation. A hundred options were reviewed and discarded more rapidly than it takes to tell. He had very few real options open to him for one very good reason, Delenn. She was seated just across the table from him. She sat quietly her eyes locked on his. No matter what he wanted to do; there was very little he could do. This was the worst possible combat situation for a married man to be in, one in which a loved one was at risk.

   John saw a masked figure, one of the first ones to enter the room, lower a weapon and aim it with deadly intent at his wife. The figure, a burly male, turned ever so slightly, searching to see the look on John Sheridan's face, the horror written there, and then pushed the button activating the P.P.G.

   That moment of hesitation and gloating was enough, just enough, for one of Delenn's guards to throw herself between the First Lady and the weapon. It fired, and a brave young Ranger fell to the floor apparently dead. Delenn started to move to help the young woman, but a gesture from John, the smallest raising of the fingers of one hand, stayed her motion. If the Ranger were dead, there was nothing Delenn, could do about it. If she was not, drawing attention to that fact was not a good idea. A second figure, a smaller male with sandy colored hair, moved to prevent the first from firing again. John breathed a very small sigh of relief. They weren't going to kill his wife before his eyes.

   He never saw his honor guards, the Rangers behind him, go down but he watched with horror as the young corporal, the other guard behind Delenn was destroyed by multiple bursts of energy from weapons set to kill with a single blast.

   The other dinner guests were cowering in their chairs. A few had hidden under the table. Most seemed shocked and stunned. Never before in the history of the Havellin Mining Corporation had such a thing happened. Never before had an official state dinner been invaded, let alone one for such important guests.

   Outside in the street and plaza, it was quiet now. In this room there were tears and quiet sobs, the sound of bodies settling, and the dripping of spilled wine onto the parquet-wood floor. Hooded and masked figures held leveled weapons aimed at all the dinner guests seated around the mahogany table. Those who had chosen to hide were dragged back to their chairs.

   "Sit down, Mister President," a hard-edged voice ordered him.

   John Sheridan froze. He felt the hard, cold barrel of a P.P.G. being pressed against the nape of his neck. He realized it had been there for some time. He wasn't sure just how long. He sat.

   Adrenaline warred with common sense. He was unarmed. *Hell,* he was a guest here, on a diplomatic mission for the Interstellar Alliance. Still, his left hand twitched wanting to reach for the sidearm that wasn't there, that hadn't been there since he had taken over as President of the new Alliance. He had security people, bodyguards, to take care of such things.

   *Correction,* John thought, *he had had bodyguards.* He shook his head sadly.

   He looked again across the gleaming china and silver of the formal banquet table at Delenn. What had he gotten her into? She had only come on this trip to please him. In her eyes he saw mirrored the frustration, bewilderment, and anger he felt.

   "What *in Valen's name* is going on? Who are these people, and what do they want?" Delenn wanted answers as badly as John did, but she did not speak her thoughts aloud. As she watched, one of the invaders, the man who had tried to shoot her, pulled out a bottle of liquid and carefully poured some of it onto a piece of cloth. It was passed to one of the others who stood close behind John. Delenn shivered.

   A large, masculine hand with dirty, chipped nails came into John's field of vision. He knew the owner of that hand had to be behind him, somewhere to his left. The hand was holding what appeared to be a none-to-clean white rag.

   John had watched Delenn's eyes widen in alarm. He did not know what she had seen over his shoulder, but he knew it had frightened her. A cloyingly sweet scent rose from the white rag and filled John's nostrils. It *had* to be a drug. Relentlessly, the drug-soaked material was pressed hard against his nose and mouth. There was no way to breathe around it. He tried holding his breath.

   Somehow, he knew it was important to know who was doing this to him. He needed to see who or what was holding that piece of cloth. He tried turning his head not away from the cloth but into it, toward the person holding it. There were two, at least two, figures behind him. He tried fighting the hand holding the drug-soaked cloth against his face. He brought his arms up and pushed it away. His efforts were met with one quick, brutal blow that drew blood from his left temple. He never saw what hit him. He gasped in pain and drew in a deep breath. Delenn seemed suddenly very far away; reality slipped and slid sideways.

   John felt himself falling backwards, collapsing into the elegant leather chair. Reaching out futilely, the former captain of Babylon Five tried to catch himself on the edge of the table. He missed it. He saw the parquet floor coming at him with alarming speed and, then, nothing. Blood mingled with spilled wine on the fancy floor. Delenn held a clenched fist before her mouth forcing herself not to scream.

    ----------

   No sooner was President Sheridan unconscious than two of the hooded and masked figures, who had invaded the dinner held in his honor, were scooping his body up off the floor and preparing to depart with him.

   "No!" With that one desperate word, Delenn was on her feet. Eyes glittering with unshed tears she rounded the end of the table. Emily Dodson reached out a hand whether to comfort or detain her she wasn't sure, but Delenn was not about to be distracted.

   Oblivious to the First Lady's pleas, the hooded and masked invaders proceeded to bundle John's unconscious form into the basket portion of a small, wheeled cart. It looked like those used to transport dirty linen or trash for recycling. One saw them everywhere in Government House.

   "Please...." It was rare for words to fail Delenn--she was a diplomat and leader among her own people--but the cruelty and suddenness of this attack first on the Rangers and now on John had left her unable to complete the thought. "Please," she repeated piteously.

   One of the abductors turned to another who appeared to be in charge. No words were exchanged, but nodded signals served the same purpose.

   The leader of the invaders shrugged. He really didn't care if they took one hostage or two. If she wanted to come with them, then why not? They'd planned on leaving her unconscious, so that she couldn't organize a rescue attempt immediately. He motioned them to bring her as well.

   The two figures that had loaded John so unceremoniously in the cart turned toward the Minbari ambassador. They grasped her by the arms and pulled her over beside her husband of only a few months. Her hand reached out tentatively to caress his face, fingers running down the jaw line, as the same--or, perhaps, another--dirty white cloth was produced and held over her nose and mouth. She gagged and tried to push it away. It was as if suddenly everything was too far away to reach, as if her arms contained no muscles or bones. A cloud of darkness descended almost, but not quite, rendering her unconscious.

   Delenn's body was lowered on top of John's in the small cart. She did not know what was going to happen next. She did not care. All that mattered to her was that they were together. Somehow, she believed, if they were together, there was hope. To her, this was a good thing. To John, it would be a harder cross to bear than his own stupidity in falling once more into a well-laid trap.

    ----------

   "Connect me with President Sheridan!" Captain Elizabeth Lochley thundered at the Havellin Three official whose face filled her view screen. "I've had enough excuses to last me a life time. I will speak to him. Now."

   Peter Taesho, a small weak-chinned man with graying hair, squinted back at her. He was Governor Dodson administrative assistant and the only official representative of the government on Havellin Three Captain Lochley or anyone else on Babylon Five had been able to contact. As far as she was concerned, he was a useless piece of vermin.

   "Umm.... The President isn't available right now. He's not here. I'm sorry, but I really don't know when he'll be back. Could I take a message?" The little man looked uncomfortable, and he was lying. She was sure of it.

   "Who is in charge down there? Connect me with Governor Dodson. Do I need to send my *own* people to locate John Sheridan? Are you *all* totally incompetent?"

   "No. I mean, yes. Oh, I don't know what I mean." The rumpled civil servant looked like he was ready to cry.

   "I'll have the President get back to you as soon as we find him. That's really all I can do. I am sorry." With those puzzling words, the trembling man broke the connection leaving a frustrated and angry captain wondering what the *hell* was going on during this *state visit.*

   Captain Lochley shook her head in disgust. She had advised against President Sheridan and his wife making this trip to what was really a backward mining planet, but--as with so many things--they had not taken her advice. She clenched her fists. The phrase "as soon as we find him" bothered her more than she wanted anyone else in C. & C. to know. She knew she wasn't responsible for his safety when he was off the station, but she felt responsible.

   "Where was the President that they would need to *find him,* that he couldn't immediately get back in contact with the station?"

   She would hope for the best, but she honestly suspected the worst. She ran her hand around the back of her neck trying to ease the tension headache she felt building there.

   "Damn it, John, why don't you ever listen to me?" she thought.

    ----------

   Beth Lochley remembered sitting in on the turbulent meeting between John and the Interstellar Alliance Advisory Board that had led up to this expedition. That board consisted of three individuals: Delenn, Londo, and G'Kar.

   Delenn was John Sheridan's bride of only a few months. Before the formation of the Interstellar Alliance, she had been the Minbari ambassador to Babylon Five, as well as a member of the Minbari Gray Council. Now she was the ambassador for Minbar and the First Lady of the Alliance.

   Londo Mollari was a Centauri, a very important Centauri. He, too, had been an ambassador to Babylon Five and, it was rumored, would soon be the next emperor of the Centauri Republic. He, also, had chosen to retain his ambassadorial status. His elaborate fan of hair seemed to quiver with indignation when he felt slighted. Many days it seemed to prove the impossible law of perpetual motion.

   G'Kar was a Narn. He had been many things on Babylon Five: an ambassador, a private citizen in exile on the station, and then, again, his home world's representative. He was a unique person.

   Of the three board members, G'Kar was the one who had been able to rise above the politics and squabbling rampant in interstellar situations. He was respected on his home world and among the ambassadors on the station. Often he was able to see things with an alliance-wide vision denied those with more mundane concerns. It was rumored that he had turned down the opportunity to rule his home world and had warned those who had encouraged him to take control of the dangers of simply replacing one form of dictatorship with another.

   Lochley liked G'Kar the best. The other two didn't seem quite real to her.

   Delenn was the fairy-tale princess with her tiara-like bonecrest and intense, wide-eyed love for President Sheridan. The Captain didn't like to think of herself as jealous, but there were times she envied Delenn and John their mutual devotion.

   Londo, on the other hand, seemed devoted to no one but himself. His personal misadventures and excesses were common knowledge all over the station. He was the lothario, the pompous ne'er-do-well who had made good.

   G'Kar had been the only one who had seen any logic in her reservations about John and Delenn traveling, on short notice, to a back-water planet to inspect mining operations, shake hands, and kiss babies.

   "What, in God's name, did either of them know about mining?"

   Any debate about the advisability of the trip had met, head-on, with Sheridan's infamous stubbornness. He was capable of dogged determination when challenged.

   "Tell him he can't do something, and he only wants to do it all the more."

   No matter how solidly the Captain had constructed her arguments against their taking the time, and the personal risk, to go to such an out-of-the-way place, he chose to ignore her advice. She didn't think it was personal. She just thought he didn't like taking advice from anyone, especially from someone who had taken over his *command.*

   "We can't protect or defend you in such a place. You could be making yourself a *sitting duck.* I can't allow this." Looking back, she knew that she had been more than a little blunt in her condemnation of the project. The fact that she had also, apparently, been right didn't help much.

   'What kind of a President am I, if I can't go to a world like Havellin Three and show them what the Interstellar Alliance is all about? Should I *only* go to planets that are already members?" John's voice had grated on Lochley's nerves. "True, I don't know much about mining," he had continued, "but I didn't know much about space stations when I started working here either." That last had been a jibe against both Lochley and himself. Both of them had commanded Earth Force destroyers before being assigned to *the shining beacon in the night* that they all now called home, that was Babylon Five.

   Lochley had lost, and she knew it. Discussion was over. They were going.

   ----------

   They had gone.

   Now, all she had to do was find them.

   

   Chapter Two

   Worries and Fears

   

   "Garibaldi to C. & C." Michael Garibaldi's serious voice pulled Captain Elizabeth Lochley back from her reverie to the reality of her job.

   "C. & C. here. Go ahead, Mr. Garibaldi," she replied tersely.

   "Lochley, is that you?" he inquired impatiently.

   "Yes, can I assist you in some way?" She did not like *Mr. Garibaldi,* as she always thought of him, nor did she respect him. He was weak. He'd let himself be used by members of Psi Corps and by people in private industry, too. It was only her opinion, of course, but she had always figured that, if he'd had any *balls,* he'd have killed himself before selling out his friend and C.O.

   "What the hell can he want?" she wondered grimly.

   "Liz, we've got a problem." She grimaced. She hated it when he called her that. She reserved that name for a few, very few close friends.

   "We do?"

   "Yeah. Liz, put this on a one-to-one hook-up." She considered taking the message over the main comm channel in her office. It was *her* office, though she still found herself thinking of it as Sheridan's at times. She thought better of it. To do that she'd have to turn over command of C. & C. to someone else and then wait for the link to be transferred. She simply grabbed a personal headset.

   "One-to-one, go," she said, as soon as it was settled over her right ear.

   "Liz," Michael sounded angry and upset. "I just heard from one of my contacts. The planet where the Sheridans went, Havellin Three is in the middle of a full-scale rebellion. The rebels invaded the state dinner John and Delenn were scheduled to attend last night, and no one has seen either of them since the rebels left the building. The government is trying to pretend everything is fine, but to my way of thinking the Captain's in big trouble and Delenn, too."

   When excited, or tense as he was now, Michael tended to slip calling Sheridan by his old rank. Captain Lochley winced. She was *the Captain* now.

   "Do you have any details? Any facts?" she asked pointedly.

   "No, this was strictly *I-heard-from-a-friend-who-heard* kind of information, but I don't think we can wait on this. What if it's true? What if they hurt them or kill them?"

   Lochley drew a deep breath.

   "How much more could President Sheridan be hurt by these rebels than he had been on Mars?" she wondered. She hadn't been on his side then, but she hadn't fought against him either, and she *had* been appalled to discover after the fact everything that Earth Force had done to him.

   Even as she formed the question in her own mind, she knew the answer. Delenn was with him. They could hurt him, hurt him without out ever touching him.

   *Why doesn't anybody ever listen?* she thought

   "Mr. Garibaldi, you were a member of Earth Force at one time, were you not?" It was almost a rhetorical question.

   "Yeah, so what?" Michael answered.

   "Then, may I assume that you know the official policy in hostage situations, the regulations?"

   "Yeah, I know. I know," Michael admitted, "but, I also know that we're talking about John and Delenn and the entire future of the Interstellar Alliance here. This goes much deeper than deciding that we *do* or *do not* want to talk with terrorists."

   As part of Earth Force, Michael Garibaldi had been head of security on Babylon Five under John Sheridan's command and under Jeffrey Sinclair's before him. He knew all the rules and regulations, and so did she.

   "Look, I figure the rebels on Havellin Three have some grounds for their revolt. Things down there seem to have gone *to hell in a hand basket* in the last few months, from bad to worse. The guys that are rebelling are mostly miners and they've got some legitimate reasons to be upset with their planetary government, but they're going about finding a resolution the wrong way."

   Michael Garibaldi looked at the new Captain hoping she was buying this. It was built on intuition and bits-and-pieces of information, none of which was too solid if looked at closely.

   "They know what they want, but they really don't have a clue what they've started. It looks like a pretty Mickey Mouse setup. Can you picture a rebellion run by a committee? That's what it sounds like from the sources I've talked to. I don't think they really mean harm to anyone, at least, most of them don't. I figure with luck, we can negotiate our way out of this one--no skin off of anyone's nose."

   Lochley shook her head at Garibaldi's mixture of colorful cliches.

   "See if you can get *confirmation* from anywhere on your information." She absentmindedly tapped the comm set with one finger. She was thinking hard and fast.

   *Damn,* Michael thought. It was as if she knew just how flimsy his sources were, as if she had stood over his shoulder as he fought to make sense of rumors received from a half-dozen sources. She wasn't John Sheridan, but she was good. If there was a weak link in someone's reasoning, then she always managed to find it. Michael felt perspiration forming under his collar. He wanted to like her, but he'd never been able to.

   Lochley reached a decision.

   "I'll look into a possible negotiation team. Do you want to be on it?" she asked.

   She really didn't want him. He was Sheridan's man. In some ways she was grateful Mr. Garibaldi had resigned from Earth Force. If he hadn't she'd have inherited the Security Chief from Sheridan and that, in her opinion, she could have done without, but she figured she owed the man the choice of being on the negotiation team if he wanted to be. Sheridan was his boss and had been his friend.

   "Me? Hell, no! I'd just make things worse. I'll stay behind the scenes."

   The Captain of Babylon Five nodded. She did not like Michael Garibaldi. He took liberties with the truth, and that was putting in mildly. He avoided writing reports and when he did they were so cryptic and succinct that, unless you'd been there and seen events transpire, they were useless. She did, however, have to admit that he, usually, knew what he was doing when it came to covert operations. He had the instincts of a hunter. John Sheridan had chosen well when he had put him in charge of that area for the Alliance, and thankfully that usually kept him out of her way.

   "Get back to me as soon as you have anything concrete, anything at all," she told him preparing to sign off. What she really needed to know, for sure, was whether the President and his wife were still guests or hostages. Hopefully, they'd be able to ascertain at least that much before she was required to allocate station resources to the situation.

   "Liz," Michael cut off her train of thought, "I may never have anything as *concrete* as you'd like it, but I will stay in touch and keep you informed about what I do find out."

   With those words, Michael broke the link. "He has to have the *last word,*" she thought, "or he isn't happy."

    ----------

   Delenn regained consciousness first. She lay beside John on a cold stone floor. Her first thought was for him. Her second was for the child she carried within her. She was only a few weeks pregnant.

   She groaned. Her shoulder, back, and leg muscles were cramped and sore. Gently she pressed one hand against her abdomen. One would not know she was expecting to look at her. Everything there seemed all right. Doctor Franklin had approved her coming on this trip on the condition that she take care of herself. She was sure he would not have approve this. She had been lying too long in one position, and she remembered being folded into an impossibly small space during much of their journey to this place. Her limbs had been forced into abnormal configurations. The dull ache behind her eyes was probably from the drug. When she moved, it escalated to stabbing pain. She forced herself to move. She had to know that John was all right.

   She bent over him and gently rested her hand on the front of his white shirt. She tilted her head to the side listening intently. He was breathing. She let out a sigh of relief. His face seemed very pale, too pale she thought, but she could not be certain. He was still alive. That was the important part.

   They were in a small, gray room. There was no furniture, no bedding, and no facilities. Their cell consisted of a door, a floor, and four walls. Three of the walls were tunneled out of rough, dark gray slate or limestone and the fourth was fabricated from some kind of metal alloy. What little light there was came through a small mesh opening in the metal wall just above the door.

   She lay back down beside John. Even the smallest movement made her head hurt. It hurt a lot. She remembered the sweet-smelling liquid on the cloth, the drug that had been used to render them unconscious. She thought it must have been *chloroform,* a very old drug from Earth. The pain was centered now behind her eyes and across her temples. If she stayed very still, it simply pounded in time to her heartbeat and made her feel queasy.

   Through luck or because of her part-Minbari physiology, the drug hadn't worked as well on her as it had on John. It hadn't rendered her totally unconscious for any great length of time. Of course, she also hadn't been hit in the head as he had been.

   She shuddered at the memory of the tool they had used to hit John. It had reminded her of a small hammer, but more pointed. Clearly, it was a dangerous weapon. Closing her eyes, she saw again the gnarled hand bringing it up impossibly swiftly and then down connecting with the side of his head. All of their assailants had carried such a tool tucked into the waistband of their coveralls, and she remembered it had been part of the planetary insignia displayed in the banquet hall. She thought Emily Dodson had said it was called a *prospector's hammer.* Emily had had a miniature one as a charm on a bracelet that John had admired while they'd waited for dinner to be served. That dinner seemed impossibly far away now.

   Delenn felt lucky that she had been at least partially conscious during the early stages of their abduction. During the journey away from Government House, she had been--what did John call it--*playing 'possum.* Mr. Garibaldi, Michael, had drilled them endlessly, fearing just such a situation might someday occur. She had tried hard to remember his advice about what to do.

   She had forced herself to stay alert and pay attention to details. She knew that the three captors who had stayed with them were called *Woody,* *Hank,* and *Barney*--strange names, even for humans. The vehicle they had been transferred to just outside Government House had been airborne for only a very brief time after leaving the main plaza and after that much of their traveling had been through ill-lit underground tunnels. None of their captors had bothered to be gentle with either the President or the First Lady of the Alliance. They had been loaded and unloaded like any other cargo. Quite literally, they had been hauled, like ore, from one site to another.

   That made some sense. This was a *mining world* after all.

   Eventually, she had fallen asleep or lost consciousness herself. She didn't remember the end of trip nor being placed in this room. She could only hope what she did remember would be of some assistance to John. Delenn looked at him. She let her hand come up and caress the side of this face. She loved him so much. She did not know what she would do if anything ever happened to him.

   Instinctively she knew he would not be pleased that she was with him, but she could not have let them take him and leave her behind. She could not have faced his being captive and alone again. He had been all alone far too many times.

   She snuggled her body up behind his, like spoons, and felt the small spasms that were passing through him. He was shivering from the cold. Handsome as he had looked in his formal evening clothes and beautiful as she had felt in lavender and silver Minbari silk, she wished now that both of them had worn something more practical. Their fancy dress clothing was no protection against the cold dampness that seemed to emanate from the stone walls and floor. She wished for a blanket, a piece of cloth, anything she could put over him. There was nothing.

   She wrapped her arms around him, easing his head back against her shoulder. She had no idea how much time had past, how long they had been in this place. The bleeding, from the cut on his temple and above his ear, had stopped some time ago. Dried blood marked the side of his face. If she had had warm water, she could have washed it off, cleaned him up. She had no water, warm or otherwise. She sighed.

   Delenn had only been a prisoner, in the same sense she and John were now, once before. That had been when the Vorlon's *inquisitor* had come to Babylon Five. Sebastian had tested both of them, she and John, in Gray 19. She shivered, too, at that memory. They had passed. She wasn't sure that counted. They had, after all, still been on the station, *technically,* still among friends. Then the choice to stay or go had been hers. Now, there was no choice.

   John had been a prisoner, in her opinion, far too many times before--during the Earth/Minbari War, when the Streib ship had abducted him, and then again on Mars not so very long ago. Had he been conscious, he could have explained to her about getting used to being a prisoner, getting used to the lack of things: water, food, warmth, and human companionship. He was still unconscious. So, she kept her illusions for a little while longer that some of those things might be forthcoming from their captors.

   Holding him in her arms, she tried to match her breathing pattern to his. She had found since their marriage that she could often comfort him with that simple act. She could not do it. John's breathing was ragged, coming in shallow gasps with frequent pauses. She thought he might be having a nightmare, but she'd never experienced anything like the long, silent periods between some of his strangled gasps. It was as if his body was having trouble remembering how to breathe.

   Delenn reached her hand up to the collar of his white dress shirt, seeking to unbutton and loosen it. Her fingers found the top button and released it. He seemed to breathe a little easier. As she sought to open the neck of his shirt wider, her fingers encountered a narrow band of metal forming a circle around his throat. "A paingiver," she recognized it immediately. She reached quickly to check for the thin metal manacles that so often accompanied such a collar. He was not wearing them; at least, he was not wearing them yet. She breathed a small sigh of relief. The Minbari, like so many others, had bought *paingivers* from the Narn during the war. She knew they usually came in sets that were attuned to work together. Maybe this set was incomplete. Maybe, by just this much, they were going to be lucky.

   She did not know when the collar had been placed on John. She realized that it must have been done while she slept or was unconscious. It really didn't matter when. It circled his neck tightly, so tightly that in her opinion it interfered with his ability to breathe. Delenn felt herself getting angry.

   "What right do these people have to do this to him?"

   Even if it had not yet been used, a paingiver was a threat. She understood fully what it meant. Their captors were taking no chances.

   "Oh, John!" She squeezed her eyes shut. She loved him so.

   She knew that Clark's forces on Mars had used Narn *paingivers* in their attempts to control and to break him during his incarceration there. It had taken a very long time for the burn marks on his wrists and throat to heal. She remembered. She struggled to find a human word vile enough to describe those who would do something like this to another sentient being.

   "Bastards," she finally decided, choosing a word she had heard John use rarely and with great vehemence. "They are all *bastards*"

   Cuddling him to her, she tried to warm his body with her own. Maybe she shouldn't have pleaded to come with him, but if she hadn't then he would have been all alone again with no one to hold his head or try to warm him. She couldn't bear that thought. It might not have been the smartest thing she had ever done, but she wasn't sorry she had done it, at least, not yet.

   Delenn fell asleep lying on her right side, her arms wrapped protectively around her husband, worrying about him and about what was going to become of both of them.

   

   Chapter Three

   Assigning Blame

   

   Londo Mollari opened his eyes and looked around blearily. He realized that he had fallen asleep at his desk again. He had been drinking. He drank a lot these days.

   He really didn't want to be an emperor. He believed the prophecy that if he became *emperor,* he was damned. That idea did not appeal to him. He really didn't want to have to submit to anything that would limit his personal freedoms.

   On that basis and that basis alone, as a member of the Interstellar Alliance Advisory Board, Londo had stood up for Sheridan's bull-headed commitment to visit Havellin Three. It had been a bad decision that was quickly turning into a total debacle. The Centauri dignitary had heard from his sources in one of the sectors near Havellin Three. He looked at the chronometer on his desk. He had heard only two standard hours before. He felt sick. John Sheridan was a captive, probably a hostage, and so was Delenn. At least she, too, was missing. He had been wrong, very wrong, again.

   Londo Mollari remembered only too well the special session of the board called because Captain Lochley hadn't wanted the President and First Lady of the Alliance to travel so far from Babylon Five's protection. In his mind's eye, he saw John facing the captain sent by Earth Force to take over as titular head of his station. Londo found that, for someone who had drunk as much as he had, he remembered things far too well--the tilt of John's head, the fury in Lochley's eye, and G'Kar's benevolent stoicism.

   "If it is meant to be, it will be," G'Kar had intoned.

   "He sounds more like a Vorlon every day," Londo had thought. It had *not* been a compliment.

   "You see," John Sheridan had jumped on G'Kar's statement. "It's meant to be."

   G'Kar had nodded sagely, and Londo had beamed at them one and all.

   "This is the very first request we have had from any of the smaller worlds," Delenn had inserted at just that point. "If we are truly going to welcome all equally into the Alliance, as we have claimed, then we do owe them some consideration." She had seemed eager for a few days away from the station, alone with her husband.

   Captain Elizabeth Lochley had continued to look angry, frustrated, and unconvinced. That had delighted Londo. Now, it simply increased his guilt. She had been right and they, all of them, had been wrong.

   It had been a security risk, albeit it hadn't seemed like a great one at the time. Now, if Londo's sources were to be trusted, and they should be--he'd paid enough for their information--that slight risk might cost the Alliance its President.

   "Who could have known what the planetary government was up to-- trying to use the Alliance to enforce their dictatorial policies--or that there were rebel units that powerful in the planetary capitol?"

   He pondered the unfairness of the Universe. He felt like it was his fault, all his fault. He felt sorry for himself and for John and Delenn wherever they might be.

   Londo's door chimed. "Come," he mumbled. He could always return to his abysmal thoughts later.

   G'Kar stood in Londo's open doorway. He stepped carefully inside, avoiding the plethora of empty bottles and discarded glasses. It smelled like a Zocalo bar after closing hours. He wrinkled his sensitive nose.

   Approaching the Centauri ambassador with great calm and serenity, G'Kar waited until the other's eyes had risen to meet his.

   "It's not your fault," G'Kar said slowly and deliberately.

   Londo looked up. Perhaps the misery in his eyes abated just a tad.

   G'Kar continued, "It's not anyone's fault. It happened. We aren't doing anyone any good feeling sorry for ourselves about it."

   Londo nodded drunken agreement. The fan of hair sent a gentle breeze wafting across the room carrying the odor to drink and depression with it.

   *Did depression have an odor?* he wondered. *If it didn't, it ought to.*

   He didn't know when or how G'Kar had achieved such an aura or wisdom, but he was more than willing to admit to its existence. Somehow in the suffering of his home world and his own personal suffering, G'Kar had transcended what it meant to be a Narn, or a Centauri, or a human, for that matter. He was a sentient--filled, usually, with reason and calm.

   Londo opened his eyes a little wider and stared hard at the Narn, the pattern of spots across his visage were the same as always.

   *Strange, he doesn't look any different.* The changes in G'Kar were below the surface, not easily perceived.

   They had been bitter enemies, friends, acquaintances, master and slave, allies of sorts, partners in crime--so many things over so very many years. Now Londo felt, perhaps, yet another transition in their relationship. Now he could almost see himself as the student and G'Kar as the scholar, the teacher, the wise one.

   *And all this on the brink of my ascension to emperor,* he thought with wonder through his personal alcohol-induced haze.

   G'Kar looked at him with disgust. Stalking across the room, the Narn picked Londo up and carried him into his unkempt sleeping quarters. He unceremoniously dumped the peacock-haired ambassador into the shower stall just off those quarters and turned the spray on full blast. Spluttering and choking the soon-to-be Centauri emperor began to come back to himself.

   G'Kar walked out. He'd have need of Londo in a little while. Captain Lochley was forming a negotiation team. For now, it was enough that he was conscious and would be, hopefully, reasonably sober soon. G'Kar had made one minor adjustment to the shower controls after chucking Londo in.... He had preprogrammed the controls to change from warm to cold about *now.* The shriek from the bathroom confirmed that his programming had been successful.

   G'Kar smiled wisely and left.

    ----------

   On Havellin Three, the planetary governor--who, also, happened to be an executive of the Havellin Mining Corporation--leaned back in his chair. Thomas Dodson's *Great Plan* had failed and, now, he had no idea what to do. He was in one hell of a fix.

   Inviting the President of the Interstellar Alliance to the planet had been a manipulative move on Dodson's part, an attempt to quell the building rebellion all around him. The aging executive had assumed that the President would come with sufficient armed guards, Rangers, and White Stars to discourage the rabble his people were fighting.

   Unfortunately, Tom Dodson hadn't bothered to be honest with anyone, including John Sheridan. President Sheridan had arrived with his wife and a small ceremonial honor guard, insufficient--as had been proven--to protect even the President and his Lady.

   Now, three of Sheridan's four honor guards were dead, and the fourth was in serious condition. Two others were missing and presumed dead; they'd been on-duty outside Government House.

   The first three dead Rangers had all been hit with P.P.G. blasts intended to kill instantly. Lieutenant Dixon, the guard who had survived, had physically imposed herself between the President's Lady and a potentially lethal P.P.G. blast. Fortunately for the young lieutenant, it had never been the rebels intent to kill Delenn. Unfortunately, the blast had been set to stun a Minbari; it had nearly killed the human Ranger who had taken the brunt of it. None of the invaders had bothered to check and see if the guards were dead or alive. Professionals would have finished the job. The young woman had been very lucky

   The medical staff caring for Lieutenant Dixon had orders to keep her alive, no matter what it took. If anything happened to John Sheridan or his wife, that woman might be the only one able to testify that the abductions hadn't been the planetary government's fault.

   Tom Dodson shook his graying head in regret.

   "How could things have gotten so far out of control? How could all this be happening on his world?"

   Havellin Three was a bare, cold world. It was positioned to be the fourth planet out from its sun...but, for reason or reasons unknown, the hypothetical third planet had never formed. A band of asteroids, rich in metal ores and minerals, occupied what would have been its orbit.

   The planet had a breathable atmosphere, but it was a cold world with little vegetation--some evergreen-type forests, some sparse grassland. Few people really wanted to live there. Less than half of its surface area was water and much of that was undrinkable unless treated to remove toxic metal salts. Large ice caps provided breeding grounds for cold winds that swept the entire planet, even the equatorial regions, most of the year.

   Mining operations had been the main--hell, the only--reason for creating settlements there. Some of those who had settled the bleak planet prospected and mined the asteroids from the non-existent third planet. Others did the same on Havellin Three itself. Out in the asteroids mining was small scale and frustrating, if--occasionally-- very rewarding. On Havellin Three, mining had been widespread and more successful overall. It had been successful enough to become big business, especially with all the wars and rumors of wars. In wartime, new metal was always needed for weapons and ships, and--if nothing else--for defenses.

   Now, the wars appeared to be in a lull, to say the least. President Sheridan and the Interstellar Alliance had promised peace and appeared willing to deliver it. Their peace would be monitored by-- and, some even whispered, enforced by--the Rangers. The future looked bleak for the Havellin Mining Corporation: no new ships and no new weapons meant no market for Havellin's metal ores.

   Large parts of the planet's population had panicked. On Havellin Three, one made a profit or starved. It looked like lean months, and maybe years, to come for the miners and for all the secondary industries that depended on those mines and miners. People all over the planet were ready to desert their inhospitable rock home for warmer and friendlier places.

   Food riots had been the beginning of Dodson's problems. From the very beginning foodstuffs had had to be imported or grown within special domes. People, a few people, got rich on Havellin Three; no one got fat.

   The mining corporation had had to face facts. Hungry men and women would not work. If the miners wouldn't work, the mines would close. If the mines closed, the miners would leave, and the planet was doomed. That might not have been the exact truth, but in Tom's eyes it came close enough. The miners could not be allowed to go.

   Immediately, emigration laws had been passed and enforced. In a place like Havellin Three, the government and the mining corporation were nearly synonymous with each other. Under the new laws, no one could leave without proof of medical need or of a job elsewhere. People fussed and fumed, and promptly begun a run on the doctors' offices and postal services. The miners organized and formed a guild and union. The government had assumed that the worst was over. Then the *real* fighting had begun.

   The first battle had been sparked by the rumors, later proven true, that the company had been censoring and redirecting outgoing mail in an effort to keep workers from meeting the *other-employment*' requirement in the emigration laws.

   A group of workers had attacked corporation guards at the spaceport and commandeered an ore-lifter. Crowding aboard they had tried to escape the surface of the planet. They had almost made it. About three miles up, they were blown to smithereens by the planetary defenses.

   Theoretically, no one knew why the ship had exploded. News vids decried it as a "Sad Day for Havellin." But, anyone with a comm unit set to the proper frequency could have and had heard it all: the threats by the planet's military, the glee of the escaping miners, the horrible sounds of decompression as the ship was destroyed. Londo's sources--the Centauri were never noted for trusting anyone, especially when wartime materials like metal ores were at stake--had listened in on the incident and reported it through channels.

   Londo Mollari had been informed accordingly, but it had been too late, much, much too late. It had reached him scant hours before the miners' ransom demands package.

   Tom Dodson raised his glass and looked into the depths of the swirling amber liquid. He had never met Londo, but they did have a few things in common. Neither one of them wanted to be in charge right now, and both of them sought solace in a large bottle whenever possible.

   Tom's hand trembled as he raised the bourbon to his mouth. He knew it wouldn't help, but it would and did create a barrier between himself and reality. He needed that barrier, that wall of forgetfulness just now. Tomorrow would bring enough difficult realities. What was he going to tell the mining corporation? Hell, what was he going to tell Babylon Five? That snooty female captain would be contacting him again soon. He was sure she would.

   "It's not my fault," he mumbled to himself. "If Sheridan hadn't declared *peace in the galaxy,* we'd still be making a profit. All we need is a small war to keep us going, a border skirmish." That was the kind of thing the President had pledged himself to preventing. "It's *all* Sheridan's fault anyway. Why should I care about what happens to him?"

   It sounded good, but it wasn't true, and Dodson knew it. John Sheridan may have been a *mover-and-shaker* in other places, but here and now he was a hostage, a pawn in a game he had no control over. President Sheridan had even done his homework before coming to Havellin Three, so that he could speak intelligently about the mining operations there. Unfortunately he'd missed the chapter on *current events* and hadn't known about the rebellion. All the man had been guilty of, and Tom Dodson knew it, was overconfidence.

   Sheridan's wife, Delenn, was now a prisoner, too. Dodson drew another long drink from his glass. What had her crime been, other than loving her husband too much to let him be taken away from her? Dodson remembered her emerald eyes, filled with tears, pleading with her husband's abductors.

   Emily had liked Delenn. She'd admired the First Lady's calm composure and beautiful clothes, but even more she'd enjoyed the easy friendship the Minbari ambassador had extended to not only the rich and famous, but all those she came in contact with. Emily had cried herself to sleep last night, refusing to even let him in the bedroom. He shook his head ruefully. He'd been wrong.

   Dodson looked again at the ransom note, the package of demands that had been delivered to his office only a short time before. The rebels were demanding food, water, amnesty, and the repeal of the emigration laws. The corporate response had already been drafted. It was quite lengthily, but could have been summarized in two words: "No way!"

   Dodson drew yet another long drink from his glass. He wouldn't want to be Sheridan or Delenn when the rebels read that response. Involuntarily, he cringed. At best, the rebels were good men--hard workers--who had refused to become slaves or feudal serfs. At worst, they were maniacs, murderers, and fools. He had no idea, which group held the hostages, but he doubted it was the former group. They just didn't do business that way. At least, he didn't think they did.

   He drained his glass and turned to refill it. He hoped, desperately, that he could manage to drown the guilt feelings welling up within him.

   

   Chapter Four

   "Sweet Dreams, Mister President"

   

   Delenn slept soundly, more soundly than she would have wished. She was awakened by the toe of a boot kicking her in the back and rough hands pulling her away from her husband. Anxiously, she watched the figures that crowded into the small room. She knew that these people were not friends, but she had no idea who they were or why they had taken them prisoner. She prayed that they wouldn't separate her from John.

   Two hooded men in mining coveralls, small prospecting hammers tucked into their waistbands, manhandled John up into a sitting position. One of them brought his hand back and slapped the President soundly across the face. Delenn flinched. John stirred and shook his head dazedly. His world did not want to focus.

   A wooden chair and a vid camera had been brought into the small room. As she watched, John was pushed into the chair. He half sat, half reclined. His head and body hurt, and he felt like he was going to be ill at any moment. He leaned far to the left, trying to hold himself upright, bracing his left arm and elbow on the roughly crafted arm of the chair.

   He remembered everything. At least, he thought he did: the dinner, the P.P.G., the white cloth, the look on Delenn's face, the pain when they had hit him in the head, the floor coming up to meet him, and, then, nothing. Looking around, he realized that Delenn was with him--his wife carrying his child. She was in this place. The pain in his body was nothing compared to the deeper pain that suddenly gripped his heart.

   One man, dressed and hooded like the others, was holding Delenn on the far side of the cramped room. She looked disheveled, but unharmed. Strands of hair hung in her eyes, and her dress, a new one she'd been so pleased with, was stained and wrinkled.

   John drew a deep breath and released it. He tried to make eye contact with her to offer some support, some comfort. The side of his face still stung from the blow that had brought him back to consciousness. This wasn't going to be easy. He just hoped it wasn't going to be too bad.

   Delenn felt his eyes on her. She tried very hard to smile at him. She failed. Her arms had been pulled roughly behind her back and fastened there with metal loops. She wondered if they were *paingivers* like John wore. She shivered.

   "Delenn?" John's voice made it a question.

   "I am all right, John," she replied. The man guarding her twisted her wrists painfully up behind her back. "I am fine."

   John nodded his understanding. If answering his questions was going to get her hurt, then he didn't want answers from her that badly.

   "What's going on? Where are we?" John asked an older man, also masked, who was working to set up the vid camera. The camera looked like an old model used to make tapes for later uploading to comm systems. It was almost an antique.

   The man only grunted and continued with his job.

   John looked again at Delenn. Her face was still a mask of pain; her arms were bent unnaturally and held immobile behind her back. As he watched, the figure behind her forced her wrists higher still. He knew he couldn't get answers from her without having them hurt her, but he wanted answers from someone.

   "Why are you doing this? Who are you?" As President of the Alliance, John had lost his patience with strong-arm tactics long ago. He was not going to put up with this. He wanted some answers. He wanted them to stop hurting his wife. He tried to rise, to get up from the chair where they had placed him.

   "Sit still, Mister President," a rough-sounding voice from behind him commanded.

   John turned and tried to see the owner of the voice. Two of his captors, both men, promptly returned him to his previous position and made warning gestures when he tried to turn again.

   "Remove his coat and shirt and bind him," the voice ordered. "Let me know when we're set up to record."

   The two, who apparently had charge of John, did as they were told. They removed his dinner jacket and dress shirt. Gold cufflinks, a gift from Delenn, with the Interstellar Alliance insignia engraved on them, were removed and pocketed by the shorter of the two. The metal collar of the *paingiver,* they left in place around his throat. One of them fetched a coil of rope made from local tree bark. While his partner held John upright in the chair, the one with the rope ran it around the back of the chair, under his arms, and around his chest. Thus, effectively he was bound to the chair, forced into a sitting position by the rough fiber. The skin of his back was held in constant contact with the cold, hard wood. Delenn saw him shiver visibly. She didn't think he had ever stopped.

   The first guard opened the side seams in John's shirt and coat. Both were placed on him so that he appeared, from a certain perspective, to be perfectly normal. Anyone viewing him from the front would see him seated, dressed as he had been at the formal banquet in dinner jacket and white shirt. From Delenn's perspective he and the chair seemed to share the garments. Instead of going between his back and the chair, the garment served to bind him even more closely to it. They wanted everything to look normal, but, simultaneously, everything to be completely under their control. It was a grotesque bit of theatrical maneuvering. One of them checked to be sure the *paingiver* collar was still in place and, yet, invisible beneath his shirt.

   John felt abominable. He let his head fall forward, resting his chin on his chest. The world still wanted to spin whenever he moved, and he really did think he was going to throw up...right here, right now. He forced himself to swallow the bile rising in the back of his throat. Had he been alone, he would have been desperately looking for opportunities to escape, for weaknesses in his captors' operation. He was not alone.

   *Delenn!* His eyes sought her out, but he didn't call out to her. There was no sense giving their captors an excuse to hurt either one of them. She looked all right. She was frightened and pale, but her fighting spirit was shining in her eyes. If they weren't careful, very careful, these rebels might really have their hands full.

   One of the two men who had bound John to the chair approached with a wet cloth and began trying to remove the worst of the blood from his face. Every time the man came near the deep gash above his eye, a groan escaped through John's clenched teeth. They probably weren't trying to hurt him, but they were succeeding. A professional would have apologized profusely for any discomfort, all the while planning how to intensify and use it. John had met some of those professionals on Mars. This man wasn't a professional. He seemed to really be trying *not* to cause pain. He flinched almost as much as Delenn did when John groaned, but it still hurt like hell. For amateurs, these guys were good.

   "Please," Delenn asked, "May I?" She didn't think they would let her, but she couldn't just stand by and watch them hurt him. Again, as at Government House, nods were passed among the group, and Delenn felt the pressure on her wrists lessen. Her hands were temporarily freed and then refastened in front of her. She was given the damp cloth and tacit permission to use it.

   She kept her movements slow and uncomplicated, not wanting any problems with their captors. As she approached John, his eyes met hers. Gently, carefully, she used just a small edge of the cloth to remove the worst of the blood. It still hurt, but her touch was light and sure. The cut itself would still show, but at least now he wouldn't look like walking wounded.

   She let her fingers move slowly down the side of his face, memorizing his features: the line of his jaw, his beard, his worried brow, and his lips. He held his face set in a grim expression. She knew all of his expressions. If they were separated--and they could be at any time, she knew that--then, this moment might have to last her for a very long time. She didn't let herself think that she might never see him again, that he might not see his child born.

   "I love you," she whispered and brought her lips down to meet his.

   It was an abortive kiss, cut short as they were pulled apart. She was flung back into the arms of her original keeper who showed his displeasure by cuffing her on the side of the head.

   John had followed her with his eyes. When the man hit her, he lost control. Her kiss had been sweet and tender, a gift of love. Bitterness rose burning inside him. Anger warred with nausea, and the latter won. The bile he had fought down before welled up again. He threw up.

   Throwing up ignited pain in his head as well as his gut. Great waves of it rolled over him, threatening to submerge him and send him back into the depths of unconsciousness. He fought to stay awake.

   This was worse than he had ever imagined captivity could be. On Mars, Delenn had been with him, but she had been a hallucination, a waking dream, and he had known it. This time she wasn't an illusion. She was really here, and she was really in danger. He had felt her gentle touch.

   John had never been afraid of dying, of what they could do to hurt him. Now, he wasn't alone. Delenn, too, could be hurt...or the baby. No one else knew she was expecting except for Doctor Franklin. Their captors couldn't possibly know, and he wasn't about to tell them, but it added another danger. She might loose the baby; he prayed she would not. If that happened, she, too, could die.

   Delenn struggled to keep him in her field of vision.

   *Oh, John!* she thought. He looked so pathetic. His shirt and jacket were ruined. Apparently their drug had made him as ill as she had been earlier. As she watched, emotions chased each other across his face--pain, fear, desperation, determination.

   Through the cloud of pain and fear that threatened to engulf him, he fought to make sense of what was happening.

   *They are definitely amateurs,* John repeated to himself. They had had no idea that the drug they had used would make him sick. Amateurs or not they had no right to hit his wife. They had no right....

   A hurried conference was convened in the corner of the room farthest from John and Delenn. Whatever their captors had planned to do, whatever tape they had wanted to make, they could not do it now. Things were quickly packed up. Shaking his head, the older man removed the vid camera and sound equipment he had brought to go with it.

   *Looks like show time is over for today,* Delenn thought.

   It was...almost.

   The two largest guards were left to clean up the mess. They stripped off John's shirt, jacket and slacks, but left him tied to the chair. He was still conscious through their ministrations, but only just. Delenn saw goose bumps rising on his flesh. It was still cold, and now he had even less protection against it.

   "Please, he needs some clothing or, at least, a blanket." One of the two men turned on Delenn. She drew back slightly but continued her request, "And we need some food and water. Please." She tried very hard to sound humble; to keep her requests reasonable. She wasn't asking that they be allowed to go, only that they be allowed to stay alive.

   The man who had been called Woody laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. He brought his large fist around so quickly and so unexpectedly that Delenn had time to neither dodge nor defend herself. She went down in a flurry of Minbari silk and pain. Compared to this blow, the previous one had been a love pat.

   John struggled fiercely against his bonds, but said nothing after his first gasp of shock. He didn't want her hurt, and he knew that they might hurt her just to get a reaction from him. There were undoubtedly political and economic motivations behind their abduction, but these two were not interested in politics or economics. They wanted only to torment them, to obliterate their hopes of escape. John had seen men like them before, some of them on Mars.

   *Escape.*

   John Sheridan let his mind caress the word. Had he been by himself it might have been possible. With Delenn, it wouldn't happen. He knew that, if she did not. They had only to hurt her, to threaten to hurt her, and they had him effectively under control.

   John stopped struggling. He was doing neither of them any good.

    ----------

   Henry *Hank* Cutler looked down through the eyeholes in the hood that masked him. The crumpled form of the half-human, half-Minbari wife of John Sheridan lay on the floor at his partner's feet. She was a *looker,* especially if you didn't pay too much attention to that bone thing.

   He nodded to Woody, querying what he was going to do with her. Woody leered back his response, and Hank gagged slightly. He'd worked with J. J. Woodbury for several months, but never understood the man's need or desire to inflict pain, especially unnecessary pain.

   Woody wasn't about to let Hank not participate. He moved himself around behind John Sheridan's chair and motioned Hank to undress the unconscious woman. Gripping the President's head, Woody forced him to watch.

   Hank licked his lips tentatively. He rolled John's wife over onto her back. She was light, easy to handle. The decorative silver pins that held her elaborate Minbari dress together were not hard to find. He found and released them. The folds of lavender and silver silk fell back from her body, revealing a brief ivory-colored shift of some less diaphanous material. It was almost the same color as her skin. Woody moved his head, encouraging Hank to remove that also, but Hank shook his head negatively. The expression on their captive's face, which he could see and Woody could not, was more than enough.

   Quickly the man known as Hank released her bonds, removed her dress, and refastened the thin bands of metal. This time, again, they were pinioned behind her back. He left her lying on the cold stone floor near her husband's feet. Taking her clothing and the filthy remains of John's with him, Hank left the room.

   Woody released John's head. He had been aware of the tension building, as the man had wanted badly to strike out at one or both of them. John had had to fight his own reaction to what they were doing, to try to preserve his small store of strength and energy for when it would do the most good. So far, he had been able to maintain his control, but Woody wasn't done yet.

   He walked around slowly to the front where the helplessly bound man could see him. Pausing he bent over Delenn's prostrate form. Looking first at John and then at her, he began to run his hands over her, almost but not quite touching her in places that left her husband and lover furious and frustrated. By the time he was finished, by the time he had satiated himself with the pain he was causing, John's control had been broken. He had not cried out. He had not given his tormentor that satisfaction, but blood ran from under the rough fiber restraints that held him prisoner.

   As John watched Woody removed Delenn's rings, her wedding band and engagement ring. He examined them carefully like a jeweler or appraiser and placed them in his own pocket. It was a small thing after everything else they had gone through, but John knew it would upset Delenn more than all the rest.

   Woody turned his attention one more time to the President. He stripped John's wedding band, too, from his finger and added it to Delenn's in his pocket. Noting the bloodied ropes, he laughed and raised his foot high enough to kick Sheridan, just once, in the groin. John's body could not bend forward, but his knees could and did come up. Woody hit him one more time on the side of the head. The cut on his temple reopened. Blood ran into his eye and down the side of his face unchecked. The man was a bloody mess.

   Woody paused on the way out of the door. He hissed in a hard- edged voice, "Sweet dreams, Mister President." The door shut behind him with a heavy, metallic thud.

   

   Chapter Five

   Discoveries

   

   Captain Lochley stepped through the doorway to her office on Babylon Five.

   "Gold channel communication from General Lefcourt," a computer- simulated voice informed her.

   Lochley made a face and keyed in her personal code that would allow for a Gold channel download. She waited drumming her fingers on the edge of the desk by the keyboard.

   "Captain, good to see you. What's this I hear about the President of the Alliance being unavailable?" General Lefcourt began without further preamble.

   "Sir, he and Delenn made a special trip to another location, and I have been unable to contact him since they arrived there." She held herself in a strict military stance, knowing that Lefcourt would expect no less.

   "Another location? Where the hell is he now?"

   "A planet called Havellin Three, sir."

   "Never heard of it. Which quadrant?"

   "Quadrant forty-seven, sir." She felt perspiration beginning to dampen the collar of her duty uniform.

   "Have you tried to get in touch with him since he left?" The General looked incredulous that someone could simply leave and be out of touch, especially someone as important as President Sheridan had become.

   "Yes, sir, several times. All I get is planetary personnel who say they will forward messages and *have him get back to me* when they find him." She looked Lefcourt's image straight in the eye. "I have been informed by Mr. Garibaldi that there is a possibility that both he and Delenn have been taken hostage by rebel forces on the planet."

   "Rebels?" Lefcourt queried.

   "Yes, sir. There seems to be a civil war on Havellin Three, a detail that planetary officials neglected to mention when they requested an official state visit by the President." Captain Lochley looked uncomfortable, but continued. "I've taken steps to form a negotiation team. I'd like to see if we can get both of them back without bloodshed, given that they really may have been captured."

   "Have you had any confirmation of such an event, Captain?"

   "No, sir. Just Mr. Garibaldi's report which is, at this time, unsubstantiated."

   "And may I assume you know the official regulations regarding hostage situations, if that report proves founded?" As it had been when she had asked Garibaldi, it was a nearly a rhetorical question.

   "Sir, I am aware of the regs. Do you really wish me to carry them out to the letter of the law, or may I use some discretionary power, sir?"

   Lefcourt looked at her. She hadn't liked being ordered to Babylon Five to replace Sheridan, but apparently they had developed enough of a relationship that she was willing to use *discretionary powers* to prevent his being left to die in the hands of these upstart rebels. He shook his head.

   Unsubstantiated sources said that Lochley and Sheridan had had a significant relationship at one time. How significant no one seemed to know. He hoped it wouldn't get in the way now. Good women in the chain of command were hard to find. He'd cut the Captain some slack and hope she didn't destroy her career in the process.

   "You may do as you see fit, Captain. Just, keep me informed. I don't like getting my news from I.S.N."

   "I.S.N., sir?"

   "Obviously, you haven't seen the morning broadcast yet. They are showing a vid tape of John Sheridan calling for repeal of emigration laws on some planet I'd never heard of before today." Lefcourt shook his head wearily. He should have known, by her earlier response, that word had not yet reached the station.

   "He doesn't look too bad, but I'd say your sources have now been confirmed. He and, most probably, Delenn are hostages of the forces wanting those laws changed."

   Lefcourt looked at and through Captain Lochley. "You're going to have to do something--negotiate, invade, or leave them there. I don't know what the best course is. If John were alone, he'd stand a chance of escaping and leaving them with an empty net, but if Delenn's with him, he'll never leave her, and he'll probably risk everything to keep her from harm. Do the best you can, Lochley."

   "Yes, sir," she said to a blanking screen. The General's image was gone.

    ----------

   John lay with Delenn in his arms. After he had made their tape about *emigration* laws, they had released him from the chair. Now the two of them were back where they had started on the floor, in a small, cold, dark room. Both of them had been stripped of the greater part of their clothing, and none of Delenn's demands had been met.

   *No food. No water. No surprises,* John thought. *Well, one small one.*

   They had been given a rough blanket to share. Despite Delenn's protests that he should wrap himself in it, he had convinced her that the best thing they could do was put the blanket between themselves and the stone floor which seemed determined to steal heat from their bodies.

   John had no idea how long they had been there. He had no idea where *there* was, except for the firm conviction that it was somewhere on the planet Havellin Three. In whispers the two of them had decided that they would not volunteer any information about Delenn's condition. He had wanted to thinking that it would encourage their captors to release her immediately. She had countered that such information would only give their enemies one more thing to use against them. With a sigh he had agreed.

   He knew, from patient listening, that there were guards, at least one, outside their cell at all times. He knew that there were many different guards--by the differing pitch and cadence of their voices, and he knew that he feared just one of them--the man with the hard-edged voice who had threatened to hurt Delenn.

   Delenn was asleep now, cradled in his arms. She had been--thank God--unconscious before. She was unaware, so far, of the implied threat she had been under.

   *If I do nothing else when this was over,* John promised himself, *I'll come back to this planet and see that guard executed or imprisoned for the rest of his life.*

   His arms tightened protectively around his wife, and she snuggled into his embrace. He wasn't warm. He wondered if anyone on this planet was ever warm, but the blanket had, at least, made things bearable.

   *I was a fool,* John thought. *A pompous fool, playing at being President.*

   He wondered if any of their honor guard, brave young Rangers, had survived. He doubted it. He had watched one, in particular, fling her body into the path of a P.P.G. blast meant for Delenn. He had seen the pain on her face, watched her fall, while a gun barrel had rested on the collar of his dinner jacket. He had been helpless, unable to do anything.

   *It could have been Delenn.* Remorse didn't help. Staying alert, not giving up, might. He thought again of the young Ranger. Dixon was her name, Lieutenant Kathryn Dixon. She had been one of the first Rangers to be assigned to the presidential bodyguard. One way or another, he'd put her up for a commendation...if he ever got out of here.

   

   Chapter Six

   ISN to the Rescue

   

   "Governor, would you like to make a statement for the press?" A hand holding a microphone was shoved towards Thomas Dodson.

   Michael Garibaldi, dressed in a pinstripe suit and trailing a floating vid camera, approached the corporate executive. His identi- card said he was Mike Gibson and worked for I.S.N. as a freelance journalist. It was as good a cover story as any other Michael might have concocted. Now that John's captivity was common knowledge and the rebels had revealed their demands, reporters were swarming to Havellin Three.

   Michael was one of a fair-sized group of reporters waiting on the steps outside the mining corporation entrance to Government House. Several of them looked as scruffy and had comm units as hurriedly assembled as his. This was not the *news center* of the universe.

   Dodson pointedly avoided the microphones and reporters. Ducking floating vid cameras, he shoved his way down the steps.

   "No comment," were the only words out of his mouth as he pushed through the throng of reporters and cameramen.

   The crowd shifted, but did not give up. Michael sensed more than saw a tall man at the back of the group who raised a small, non- military weapon and aimed it at Governor Dodson. Whether the man would have fired or not was a moot point. Dodson believed he would. So did Michael. With a flying tackle that would have done any number of defensive football players proud, the man was bowled over and the blast, if there was one, went high over Tom Dodson's head.

   Michael grimaced in frustration, partly at the pain in his shoulder where he had hit the possible assassin and party because a hundred cameras were now in *his* face wanting to record for the evening news his heroic effort.

   "Hell of an undercover agent I am," he thought ruefully, realizing that--while his cover was not technically blown--he would now have a *very recognizable* face again. He hoped against hope that none of those seeing it would connect his journalist persona with the *hero of the people* he had been portrayed as a few months before. The *second stringers* sent to cover Havellin Three hadn't figured it out, but news people had good memories, especially good memories when it came to faces. The last thing he wanted was publicity, but how to avoid media attention.... *Go looking for it, of course.*

   "Wow! Guys did you catch that?" Michael Garibaldi slipped seamlessly into his country-yokel routine. "He just put his arm up, and I just jumped across there and sent that little gun of his flying. Am I on now? Can I say *Hi!* to the folks back home?"

   It was amazing how fast the vid cameras and microphones went away. With luck, by the time they got through editing, he'd be a face on the cutting room floor. Flinching, he turned to walk back up the steps. He'd need to find someone to check out that shoulder and fairly quickly. It was starting to get stiff already. Just as he entered the building, a small man in a rumpled suit called out to him.

   "Could you spare a few minutes, please?" the small man inquired. "I'm Peter Taesho, the Governor's aide."

   Michael nodded. "Sure, Mister Taesho, if you can point me towards a med lab. I'd like to get this shoulder checked out before it stiffens up."

   "No problem. Come with me." The Governor's aide didn't seem comfortable being addressed by his own name. He was a small man in more ways than one. He preferred not to be recognized. He preferred to stay in the background.

   Michael found himself being escorted through what were obviously halls of power. He'd been in Government House before, but *the press* was never allowed in this section. Walls were paneled and decorated with paintings that appeared to be real, not holographic projections. He almost caught himself whistling. This had cost someone a fortune.

   When they reached the end of the hall, Taesho made a half-hearted attempt to straighten his rumpled clothing and knocked on the real wood door that then swung open on what appeared to be brass hinges.

   "No expenses spared," Michael thought sarcastically, walking into the opulent conference room revealed behind the carved wood door. No one was there. One wall of the large room was decorated with the mining corporation's seal and motto. A huge mahogany table ran the length of the room. Its legs rested on a parquet wood floor that gleamed with polish almost as brightly as the table. The small man did not follow him. Michael turned toward his guide.

   "Someone will be with you shortly," he said bowing and quietly closing the door.

   "Uh-oh!" Michael prepared for trouble. Another, less pretentious door opened behind him. He turned slowly surveying the large room again and met, instead of the expected henchmen or assassins, the man whose life he had just saved.

   "How'd you get back here so quickly?" he asked aloud.

   "Mirrors," Tom Dodson chuckled. "It's all done with mirrors." Seeing that this non-answer was not going to suffice, he elaborated. "The man whose life you saved on the steps was a double, one of several I'm using since the trouble began. That way they never know for sure where I am."

   "Smart move," Michael acknowledged. "And now you say *thank you* and I get a one-way ticket off planet." He was guessing, but that sounded about right.

   Dodson had the grace to blush a little. "Almost, but not quite.... I could really use someone with your talents. Our secure cams hadn't spotted that man on the steps. They didn't even realize there was a threat until it was all over."

   "Yeah, well, thanks. In the news business you sorta develop a sixth-sense bout these things..."

   "Not as much as you do in the security business, Mister Garibaldi." Tom Dodson cut him off in mid-sentence.

   "How long have you known?" Michael asked cautiously; not wanting to reveal anything not already compromised.

   "I'd love to say, since you came on-planet...." The executive sank into one of the plush leather chairs that circled the table and motioned Michael into one across from him. "...But the truth is, we hadn't broken your cover until after you saved my double. I assume you're here to find President Sheridan?"

   It was a common misconception that Michael was in charge of security for the Interstellar Alliance. People just didn't seem to understand the difference between security and covert operations. He seldom bothered to explain it to anyone, and he did not attempt to clarify the issue for the Governor either. He wasn't sure he liked this man who used other people--whether doubles or his friend.

   Michael nodded, "Yeah, I'm here to find the President and Delenn. I assume she's been abducted as well?" He let his voice make it a question.

   Dodson nodded.

   "You know, you really haven't been very forthcoming about any of this. You must know more than you're telling. You certainly knew more than you told John before tricking him into coming here. Did you think the Alliance wouldn't help? Did you think they'd have refused to send Rangers if you'd asked, if you'd indicated that you wanted to join them?"

   Dodson said nothing. What could he say?

   "You let President Sheridan walk into this little mess of yours with no warning and no protection. He brought an honor guard and his wife, for God's sake. He had no idea you were fermenting rebellion here with your crazy dictatorial laws. Only God knows what you were really trying to do passing such garbage. Any court worth anything will throw them out. Your legal people should know that."

   "I know what you thought would happen when you got the President to come here. I've figured that much out." Michael's anger was never a pretty thing, and he was building up a full head of steam. "You had visions of a sky full of White Stars scaring your rebels back to work. You really expected John would solve your problems for you without you or your company having to do anything."

   Tom Dodson had the grace to look ashamed of himself. That had been his idea and Garibaldi had it pegged.

   "You were wrong," Michael continued. "Whether it could ever have worked out the way you wanted, I don't know. We'll never know now. You didn't give us a chance to find out. You want my help; you've got to give some, too."

   Dodson slowly shook his head. "We know a little more than we've released, but not a lot. The corporation," he gestured around the now- vacant conference table, "basically owns the planet. They tell the government what to do, and it happens."

   This was the way Michael has assumed things were being done, so he really wasn't surprised by that revelation, if that was what it was supposed to be. He looked at the executive expecting more and hoping he'd get it. The man shifted uneasily.

   "We meant well, really we did, when we invited the President and First Lady to come. We've got problems right now, major ones. What we produce here is weapons-and-ship-grade metals. Because of the peace President Sheridan declared we have no market for what we produce. Prices have been slipping. Hell, they've slipped off the scale. We need help--government subsidies, retooling, something. We figured Sheridan could authorize that kind of help. We also honestly figured he'd come with a large enough force of Rangers and White Stars to impress the locals and shut up the rebellious forces that have been giving us trouble."

   Thomas Dodson shook his head. "The damn fool came with his wife and six Rangers. Six."

   Michael wasn't sure how he felt about Dodson calling John a damn fool. It *was* the first phrase that had occurred to him, as well, when he'd heard about what happened, but he'd always sort of figured he had seniority in that department. If anyone was going to tell John he'd been a *damn fool,* it was going to be Michael.

   He listened as the planetary governor continued talking. The man's dissertation was not quite coherent. Michael paid attention anyway. This was his job, searching through seemingly unrelated information for the few pertinent facts that might be contained in it.

   "I didn't want this to happen. I didn't want anyone to be hurt." The Governor tried to explain. "I didn't think the miners would dare to try something like this. I didn't think...."

   "You're right about that," Michael added under his breath.

   "One of your Rangers is in critical condition in our med lab facility. She's a pretty young thing. The doctors tell me she's improving, but she hasn't regained consciousness yet. Three of them are dead, killed the night Sheridan and Delenn were taken captive." Mr. Dodson volunteered. "And the other two, who were on guard outside that night, have disappeared and are presumed dead as well."

   *No help there then,* Michael thought to himself.

   "What can you tell me about these miners, these *rebels?* Do you know who they are?" he asked. "Do you know where they have the Sheridans?"

   "Rebels? I suppose that's a good a name for them as any. They're not all miners. It's a mixed bag. The best ones are miners, good workers who are afraid of the changes they see happening here. The worst ones are--psychopaths, felons, imbeciles, morons--the mentally ill, the criminally insane. I'd call 'em scum. All kinds of undesirables have been dumped here over the years, supposedly to work in the mines. Somehow folks still have the image of people doing hard labor with a pickaxe, for Christ's sake. Today mining is almost all done by robots--big, ugly, stupid machines. What the miners do is program and direct them. It can be tedious and boring, but it takes a whole lot more smarts than pick-and-shovel mining ever did."

   "Do you know which ones, which group, have John and Delenn? Do you know where they are being held?" Michael asked the questions again. He was beginning to wonder which group Dodson would have belonged in, if he'd chosen to be a rebel. He couldn't seem to give a simple, straightforward answer. Unconsciously the head of covert operations for the Alliance let his fingers begin drumming on the mahogany tabletop.

   "Honestly," Dodson admitted, "No. It's probably the maniacs and murderers though. The miners, the real miners, are good people. They just got scared when it looked like we'd have to shut down our operations. They were worried about how they'd feed themselves and take care of their families."

   Realizing he'd drifted off topic again, Dodson forced himself back to the last question. "We don't have a clue where they are. I'm sorry. They could be anywhere. This planet is a honeycomb of tunnels and caverns. We know they left the plaza outside by hopper--that's a kind of industrial shuttle for atmosphere use only--but they didn't stay in the air long enough for us to get any fix on their destination. Where they went after they landed, God knows." The man sank back into his chair with a sigh of what could only be described as despair.

   Seeming to remember that he was the one who had invited Michael Garibaldi there, the Governor drew himself up out of his chair. "Would you like something? A drink?" he asked hopefully.

   Michael shook his head. The last think he needed was a drink. This wasn't the time to go down that road, at least, not yet.

   "Do you have any real suspects? Have you eliminated any of your population as suspects?" One could always hope.

   "Not really. I'm afraid we're not very good at this kind of thing."

   "Oh, but you're *damned* good at making it look like nothing happened for the benefit of the rest of space." Michael was pissed. "If you'd just been honest about this, we could have had people in here within twenty-four hours and had a chance that some leads would be fresh enough to let us track these kidnappers."

   "Kidnappers?" Dodson gulped. He hadn't quite thought of them in that light.

   "What, the hell, else would you call them? They take people, by force, and then make demands for their release. That's kidnapping in my book, and what you've been doing comes somewhere between *aiding- and-abetting* them and *obstructing justice.*"

   Dodson nodded slowly. He'd known this job was giving him ulcers; now, he suspected it just might kill him.

   "I'm going to order two teams of Alliance people in here within the next few hours." Michael looked at the man long and hard. "Your people *will* cooperate with them. You--personally--make sure they have no problems with immigration or customs, and I want to hear nothing--do you hear me, nothing--about any territorial problems. We will need and have full jurisdiction until we get President Sheridan and his wife back, and until this *rebellion* is finished."

   Dodson shook his head. Words like *kidnappers,* *hostages,* and *demands* made his stomach hurt. "Whatever you need, just let my staff know. You'll have it."

   Michael nearly grabbed the man by the scruff of his neck. "Right now, I *need* a comm link--a secure one--and I *will* be dealing with you directly, not with your staff. Do we understand each other?"

   "The comm links are right over here-the red button will get you a secure channel." The man was poised ready to flee the minute Michael's back was turned.

   Some things, Michael knew, are inevitable. *When you can't fight 'em, let 'em go,* he thought. What he said was, "Do you mind if I have some privacy for this transmission?" He knew he was giving the man permission to *be somewhere else,* but right now he didn't really give a damn. He needed to get hold of Lochley. He needed to get her negotiation team and his own team here *yesterday.* If he couldn't do this covertly, he was going to do it as expeditiously as possible.

   Squinting at the unfamiliar comm unit, Michael pushed the *red button,* entered his secure code, and waited to be connected to Lochley at Babylon Five.

   

   Chapter Seven

   Eat, Drink, and....

   

   When Delenn awoke, she smelled food. For a moment she thought it must be a dream. Investigation, however, revealed a small bottle of tepid water and a metal plate with some form of stew and two hard, dry pieces of bread on it. This she decided was worth waking John.

   "Wha'...?" was his sleepy response when she began excitedly telling him that food had been left for them. It didn't make sense.

   *If food is in such short supply that it was part of the demands they made me read, why would they waste it on captives? Surely we haven't been here so long already that someone fears we'll starve to death.* John wasn't thinking clearly. He knew he wasn't, but it still didn't make sense.

   Delenn had brought the plate and bottle over from where she had found them just inside the door and set them down carefully between the two of them. "You go first," she offered kneeling back politely. She looked just enough like a *geisha* girl from ancient Earth to bring a smile to John's lips.

   He knew she was hungry, at least as hungry as he was. He could see it in her eyes. Minbari often fasted for long periods of times. She, however, was no longer pure Minbari and she hadn't prepared herself for this fast with meditation and ritual.

   "We'll eat together--all of us," he said meaningfully, honoring her offer to let him *go first* and respecting the fact that she was as hungry as he was, if not moreso.

   His stomach growled at the sight and smell of the stew. She looked at him, tilting her head sideways at the *sound.* She had known he was hungry. Now she had an idea just how hungry. He let himself smile again at her bemused expression.

   "It just means I'm hungry, too."

   "I know," she replied simply.

   He picked up a piece of the bread and tried it with his teeth. It was hard, very hard. "I think this is going to work best if we dip it in the rest. Besides, I don't see any forks or spoons handy."

   Delenn took the second piece of hard bread and followed his example using it to convey the gravy, vegetables and small slivers of meat to her mouth. The stew was greasy and could use seasoning, but it was food. They ate until it was gone nibbling the edges of the bread as it became soft enough to chew.

   When they were finished with the contents of the metal pan, John poured a little of the water into the bottom of it and showed Delenn how to soak the remainder of the bread in it to make it edible, also.

   There was only a very small amount of water left in the bottom of the bottle. John picked it up carefully, obscuring the level of the liquid with his fingers. He lifted it to his lips and, corking it with his tongue, took a large imaginary swallow. Lowering it, he passed it to Delenn. She gratefully finished the contents. John smiled and yawned.

   When he looked back at Delenn, she was setting the bottle down with exaggerated care. He noticed that she, too, seemed to be yawning and on the point of dropping back off to sleep. His eyelids felt unconscionably heavy. He knew then that he had been right to have misgivings about the food. They had been drugged. He cursed silently hoping against hope that whatever the drug was it would not hurt any of them. Fortunately, this drug didn't seem to induce nausea. Maybe they were just going to move them again. Maybe the demands had been met. Maybe they were going to be released. Maybe fish could fly.

   "Wishful thinking," he chided himself, drawing Delenn back onto the small, rough blanket beside him. "That I'm good at."

    ----------

   "Negotiation team ready to leave on your order," Lieutenant Corwin informed Captain Lochley. "They are all assembled and gear has been loaded. They're awaiting your authorization."

   "Lochley to Negotiation Team." She spoke clearly and distinctly knowing that the comm system would tend to blur her words.

   The team was effectively eighteen individuals. Six of them were designated as guards and security. They were Mr. Garibaldi's covert operations specialists. Six of them represented Earth Force, officers and crew from the station. They were her team. Each one of them had specific skills that might aid equally in negotiation or confrontation situations. The final six were ambassadorial personal representing the governments who participated in the Interstellar Alliance. A hundred worlds had wanted to send their personal representatives. She had settled on only six. Of those six, two she felt would carry the bulk of the negotiations, if they didn't kill each other first--G'Kar and Londo.

   *God help us,* she thought, *if the Havells have developed any new forms of alcoholic beverages.* She wasn't really sure about Londo, but G'Kar had assured her that in diplomatic matters, he was *the best.*

   "Ambassadors, gentlemen and ladies of Earth Force and the Alliance, I have every confidence in your abilities to bring this matter to a successful resolution." So much she thought for the standard speech.

   "Don't let yourselves be bullied or intimidated. You are there for a job, a very specific job. Peace for Havellin Three would be a nice by-product, but the President and Delenn are your first priority. Bring 'em back--alive! And see if you can't, please, teach these planet crawlers some manners."

   Her speech got mixed reactions--sobering faces at first and then quirking smiles at her reference to *planet crawlers.* To those who lived and worked in space, all those who did not were so deemed, and *teaching someone manners* was as close as any good captain ever came to giving his or her crew *carte blanche* in dealing with an enemy.

   "Party prepare to embark. Go."

   "Go...with care," she added quietly.

   On the flight deck, salutes were exchanged. In C. & C., Lochley mirrored them. They might not be able to see her down there, but the crew up here could and did. They and she would know that she had returned the honor.

   *Go get 'em, boys and girls,* she thought. Turning she entered her office and began again to tackle the piles of self-regenerating paperwork.

    ----------

   John awoke in nearly total darkness. He didn't feel Delenn's arms around him, and he missed her warmth. He felt instead a bone-deep cold. His back ached from lying so long on the hard stone floor. The blanket had helped alleviate the coldness of that floor, but nothing helped the hardness. Stone was stone.

   He listened, straining his sense of hearing, for the sound of Delenn's gentle breathing. All he heard was silence, his own heartbeat and respiration. He was alone.

   Having her with him had been hard. Having her taken away from him was nearly unbearable. He opened his eyes wide and confirmed what his ears had told him. She was gone. He wrapped his arms around himself, both in an effort to get warm and as a gesture of self- comfort.

   "Delenn?" He was worried about her, about her safety, about the baby. Where was she? What was happening to her? In some ways, not knowing was worse than if they had let him watch them take her away.

   He heard sounds--footsteps outside the door and the harsh clink of the locking mechanism being drawn back. Maybe they had only taken her out for a few minutes. Maybe they were bringing her back. He sat up and waited to see what the opening door would bring.

   A tall man with a potbelly and vacant smile entered the room. Barnard Stephens was dressed as most of John's other captors had been. He wore a mask covering the upper portion of his face, heavy coveralls, and scuffed boots. The only really distinguishing thing about the man was his protruding stomach. No one else John had seen on the entire planet had shown any signs of being overweight. This man either had influence or was a big enough bully that others had let him have more than his fair share of their meager resources. John didn't know which, but he suspected the latter. The man's smile made him uncomfortable.

   Barney considered himself to be the *boss* of the rebellion. He was a bully and a fool--a crafty, demented fool. Seeing that John was awake, he ran his hand through his white-blonde hair and asked slyly, "Missing her already?"

   "If you've done anything to her, so help me God...."

   John rose to his feet. The man didn't answer him, but licked his lips and leered knowingly at the President. John knew he was being stupid. He knew he was giving the man exactly what they wanted. He couldn't help it. They'd taken Delenn. They'd taken his future. He started across the floor toward the big man. His fists were clenched and his jaw set.

   He had gone no more than a foot or two forward when the *paingiver* he wore was activated. In the months since Mars he'd forgotten how much they could hurt. It was like a *ring of fire* encircling his neck; as if, the tow-headed man were a giant holding him by the throat, strangling him, without ever touching him.

   The pain dropped John to the floor. He strove to move away from the source of his agony. He had learned some lessons on Mars the hard way. When he got past a certain distance from the sensor, which triggered the infernal thing, the pain should stop. At least, that was how the one Clark's forces had used had worked. This one was different, though John didn't know it. This *paingiver* was simpler and, in some ways, more damnable. It consisted of a thumb switch and a small transmitter: push it down, the pain began--release it, the pain stopped.

   Waiting until John had crawled as far as humanly possible from him, Barney finally released the switch. John collapsed, panting, his heart pounding in his chest. "Oh, God," he sobbed. *Oh, sweet Mary, Mother of God,* he prayed silently, *don't let them do this to Delenn.*

   Barney Stephens laughed. He liked being the one *in charge.* It had been his idea to use the *paingivers* Hank and Woody had found stowed away in some moldering wartime supplies. Woody was smart with electronics and had fixed this one for him, so he could turn it on and off whenever he liked.

   He liked hurting people. He liked making them cry and whimper and beg. It made him feel powerful. It made him feel important. He turned, laughing uproariously, and walked out of the door, patting the pocket where he had carelessly shoved the thumb switch.

   John had felt another quick jolt of electricity as the man had pushed the controller into his pocket. It had been over almost as soon as it began, and he had striven hard not to let it show. "That fool could kill me and never know he'd done it," John thought. He shivered again, not just with the cold this time.

   

   Chapter Eight

   Negotiations and Instructions

   

   Delenn shivered. She, too, had awakened alone. That had been a surprise, but not as much of a surprise as the place where she found herself. She had been awake for some time now, several hours, in what appeared to be a small metal room. Vibrations in the floor and walls told her that she was probably on a ship of some kind, and it appeared to be underway. She could not imagine where they would be taking her. She only knew that she and John had been separated and that she was desperately worried about him.

   She lay on a small bunk, the kind that pulled down from the wall in crew's quarters. Her wrists were still held tightly together by thin metal bands fastened, now, in front of her, and she was covered with a metallic blanket--the kind used to prevent loss of body heat in emergency situations.

   *Had she been hurt, injured in some way?* she wondered. *Probably not.* Probably, the blanket had simply been a way to carry her aboard without her identity being revealed. She shook her head. Their captors had shown a strange mixture of ingenuity and stupidity throughout this entire affair. She wished she had more reliable information about the economics and politics on this world. Then, maybe, she could make some sense out of what was happening.

   *Perhaps,* she thought, *this is not a unified group. Perhaps they do not always agree. Sometimes one faction prevails, sometimes another.* Hence, the differences in attitude and treatment she and John had been forced to deal with. That would, at least, make some sense of unfolding events, not that it would forgive any of them.

   Delenn remembered awakening in the small stone cell they had shared and finding that they had apparently beaten John while she had been unconscious. That had been before he had made the first recording for their captors: he had been covered in blood--from the cut on his face, from the ropes that bound him to their chair, from his nose and his mouth. Someone, some group had hurt him. She had been horrified, and he had refused to talk about it. She had, of course, known that these things happened, but whenever she had witnessed such behavior before it had been in wartime. It had been done to enemies, those one was fighting against. She and John hadn't been fighting anyone.

   They had taken her engagement ring while she was unconscious and both of their wedding bands. She could not imagine why. The rings had some value, yes, but were of no great worth to anyone else. It had been, she reasoned, simply another way to hurt them. John had tried to comfort her, telling her that he had always meant to replace her engagement ring when he could buy her a proper one from Earth.

   Delenn had wanted to hug him. She had not been able to. Her wrists had been fastened behind her back. Now, she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to hug him again. She was frightened, and she was alone. She knew that strength would not get her out of this mess, but intelligence might. She might be able to negotiate with these people.

   Delenn believed in negotiations. She believed in the power of intelligent minds to find a clear path to mutual objectives. She was, in fact, very good at arranging *mutually acceptable settlements* among member planets of the Interstellar Alliance.

   To negotiate one needed to understand. She really did not understand violence for the sake of violence, sadism or masochism-- finding joy in hurting others or in letting others hurt you. The universe was preparing to teach her.

   A metal door in the far wall of the room slid open without a sound. Three men entered. For once they were neither hooded nor masked though all three wore the uniform coveralls that she was used to seeing their captors wear. She recognized all three of the men: Hank, Woody, and Barney. They were three of those who had abducted them in the beginning--three whose names Delenn had memorized. The metal door to the cabin slid quietly closed.

   "Ambassador," the one called Hank began. He helped her into a sitting position on the edge of the bunk. "We have a few questions to ask you?"

   Her eyes opened wide surveying the threesome.

   "I am not sure that I shall have any answers for you, until some of my own questions are answered." she countered.

   The lady was gutsy and smart, as well as good-looking. She knew how to negotiate. Her stock went up in Hank's estimation.

   "May I assume, you'd like to know where you are?" Hank asked. She nodded and he continued. "We are on a hopper, a small ore-shuttle. We'll be touching down at Havellin City spaceport soon. We have a ship ready there to take us off of this planet, but the spaceport is officially closed. We're going to need your assistance to take off from there."

   Delenn turned a withering gaze on the man. "And why should I help you?"

   "Because, if you don't, you *ain't* gonna have a husband no more," the one she knew as Barney interjected.

   Barney kept fondling *something* in his pocket. She had no idea what it was nor did she want to find out. She felt sure his vacant smile did not indicate any positive emotions. He was succeeding in making Delenn very uncomfortable. She had seen such behavior before, among different races and species. This was a truly amoral creature, almost--but, not quite--an idiot, and, most definitely, a fool.

   Her face paled. This man, Barney, wouldn't just make threats; he'd carry them out and enjoy doing it. She had seen his type before. She had hoped never to see it again.

   "Look, lady, what my friend says is true. If you refuse to cooperate, your husband will be killed, but it doesn't have to come to that. We want to end this peacefully with nobody hurt."

   Delenn thought of John unconscious on the floor at Government House, of John tied to a chair in a small stone cell with his face and body bruised and bloody. It was a little late for that sentiment.

   "We've tried sending tapes," Hank continued. "You heard the ones we had your husband make. So far, it's been *No go.* We figure the block is some *bigwig* here in the mining corporation. What we want to do is send a *live* message about what it's like here. We want our demands to be heard. We want you to represent us, to talk so's folks outside of this system will hear what's goin' on here. Stir up some sympathy. See if you can't make them be reasonable."

   Delenn nodded. In an obtuse way, it made sense.

   "You know, John and I could both help you, if you let both of us go--together." It was a slim chance, but she had to try.

   "We can't send both of you. We thought about sending the President with you but figured, if we did that, we'd have lost our major bargaining chip. And he didn't appear as if he'd be too reasonable, if we sent him and kept you."

   Delenn nodded in agreement. John would probably bomb them back to the *stone age,* as the Centauri had the Narns, if they did anything to hurt her or the baby.

   "We want to take you off-planet, find a place on the space lanes where your people can pick you up, and let you go in a lifepod." Hank grimaced slightly. "It's not the most comfortable way to travel, but you should get picked up safely, and then you can force these *fat cats* to negotiate. We know you've got pull, and we've got none. We really need your help."

   She looked the trio over. The last thing she wanted was to help them. They had drugged and harmed John, kept the two of them as prisoners, and ignored reasonable requests for clothing and necessities. She didn't like it. She didn't like it one little bit, but she would go along with their plan.

   She shook her head affirmatively. Yes, she would do it. If she did not, Valen alone knew what might happen to John.

   "When we get to the spaceport, we're going to need your clearance code to get out of here without being blasted," Hank said.

   Delenn nodded that she understood. "When you need it, you shall have it. Not until then." A stupid negotiator, she was not.

   "Do you think," she motioned indicating her bound wrists, "we might do away with these? I am prepared to cooperate, fully, with what you have asked."

   The one she remembered was called Woody leered, and she drew back. She had done it again. Earth idioms could be so illogical. Obviously what she had said must have been subject to multiple interpretations. One could take it more than one way, and this one had a crude, one-track mind.

   "Umm. Not just yet," Barney was the one who answered her.

   "I think we'll keep the extra security for a while yet," Hank added.

   Barney was still fooling with the device in his pocket. He wanted badly to use it on her, to watch her cry out and crawl.

   *Why not?* he thought. *What could she or her husband, or anyone else do about it?"

   He thumbed the activation switch, and immediately released it.

   Delenn doubled over clutching her injured wrists to her chest, striving to soothe and protect them with the rest of her body. Tears escaped from under her tightly closed eyelids. She had known they were *paingivers,* but she hadn't imagined how much they could hurt. She'd felt small tingling sensations from them before and assumed that she had somehow come too close to something designed to set them off. This was much worse--as though someone were trying to sever her hands from her body with a blade of fire.

   *This is how they treat those who agree to work with them?* Her mind reeled from the implications if she ever chose to oppose their wishes.

   Far away, John felt a weak tingling in the collar he wore. He stirred in his sleep, but did not waken. Woody had rigged a transmitter far more powerful than Barney could ever have imagined.

   "Cut it out!" Hank yelled at the big man. "Stop it, now!"

   "I didn't give her no more than a *tingle,*" he replied sullenly. "Just to show her who's the boss."

   "Yeah, right." Hank looked with sympathy at the Minbari ambassador who sat cradling her injured hands and wrists.

   "Get him out of here," Hank told Woody.

   Reluctantly Woody indicated the door, and he and their *fearless leader* exited the small cabin.

   "I'm sorry," Hank tried to console her. "I don't know what gets into him sometimes. I just don't. I won't let him go with you on the ship. I promise."

   Delenn looked up at him. He looked like he meant it. He looked as shocked, if not as hurt, as she was. She nodded her thanks.

   "I think you'd better lie back down now," Hank said. Once she was lying reasonably comfortably, he pulled the metallic blanket back up over her body. "It gets awfully cold here sometimes," Hank offered. "My wife thought this might help you stay a little warmer." Delenn nodded her thanks again wondering if his wife had been responsible for the desperately needed blanket she and John had been given before.

   Mutely she raised her wrists, asking again--without words--for release.

   "I don't have the key," was his immediate reply, "and the boss hasn't authorized it." Delenn cringed. If that creature who controlled the *paingivers* was the *boss,* she was still in a lot of trouble.

    ----------

   "Gold channel communication for Captain Lochley," the computer reported.

   Lochley entered her code. It had been a long day. She was tired.

   "Gold channel, go."

   "Captain!" It was General Lefcourt, again. "Have you located and released President Sheridan and Minbari Ambassador Delenn yet?"

   Lochley looked slightly shocked, but held herself with military bearing. "Sir, no, sir. The negotiation team is en route to Havellin Three, as are Mr. Garibaldi's covert operations people. They should be arriving there shortly." She glanced at the chronometer on her desktop display. "In about seven hours."

   "Seven hours! Lochley, what are you playing at?"

   She didn't respond. She had no idea what to say. Havellin Three was five days from Babylon Five even traveling by hyperspace.

   "I need this matter settled, and I need it settled now. I am relieving you of command pending a hearing on your actions in this matter. I knew you didn't like Captain...." He floundered for the right word, knowing he'd misspoken. "...President Sheridan, but I never thought you'd let your personal feelings effect you judgment in a matter of this gravity."

   Lochley felt her jaw drop. She couldn't help it.

   "Captain Shaw will be arriving on *The Pleiades* before your negotiators get to Havellin Three. She will take command, and you will consider yourself reassigned."

   "Reassigned?" Elizabeth Lochley blinked. This was all coming much too fast and at the end of a very long day.

   "I want your *ass*...." He made a quick judgment change in what he had been about to say. "...*Astute person* on that damned planet, Captain. I want you *personally* to go and get them out." Understanding finally began to dawn in Beth Lochley dark eyes.

   "I know. I know. I'm doing this through the backdoor, but there's no one else I can trust to do it right. Take the fastest ship available and *flog the horses.*"

   "Yes, sir," she saluted smartly. "Any additional instructions, sir?"

   "Do it by the book, Lochley. This is John Sheridan we're talking about. Before he became a politician, he was a damned fine soldier. Hell, I taught him at the academy. He knows the regs inside and out. Bring him back, Lochley. He's a friend, a good friend. The universe doesn't send any of us an overabundance of those. If there's any way you can do it, bring him back--alive."

   Beth was reminded of her own parting words to the negotiation team. "I will, General," she promised.

   Swiftly the General outlined a brief message he hoped she would be able to pass on to Sheridan, if and when his abductors ever let them communicate. She was glad she had paid attention in all those memory skills classes officer candidates were required to take. She repeated a paraphrased version of his instructions to her superior and signed off the comm line.

   Within ten minutes she was aboard the fastest of the White Stars and streaking for quadrant forty-seven. God have mercy on anyone or anything that got in her way.

   

   Chapter Nine

   Preparations and Regulations

   

   John Sheridan knew that he had been wrong yesterday--hell, and the day before that, too--to just lie on the floor and wait for things to happen to him. He needed to get himself up and keep himself moving as much as possible. He needed to be watching every move his captors made, searching for their weaknesses, looking for ways to escape. When Delenn had been with him, escape hadn't been an option. Doing anything that might get her hurt had been unthinkable but, now that he was alone, he'd be a fool if he didn't try.

   "The first duty of a prisoner is to try to escape," he quoted the regulation to himself. He knew the regulations. He knew them all.

   Getting to his feet, he began to pace the confines of his small room. It was narrow. Some of the tunnels that miners dug in search of ore deposits were wider. It ended in a wall of solid rock. John wondered if a vein of ore had petered out here, or if this space had been dug specifically to serve as a cell. He couldn't imagine it ever having been intended as *living space.*

   "Five steps, turn, seven steps, turn...." He repeated the chant to himself, letting his body record the dimensions of his prison. His legs seemed to be in reasonably good shape. Not that he had anywhere to go right now, but he needed to be ready and able to move on a moment's notice. Opportunity wouldn't wait. When he saw his chance, he'd have to take it.

   He had just completed a set of seven steps and was preparing to turn when he heard the metal locking mechanism in the door being drawn back. He sat down on the stone floor where he was. No sense, he thought, in letting them know that he was exercising.

   The heavy metal door opened. Two men, hooded and masked as his captors always were, came in. One of them carried a coil of the rope they had used on him before. He looked up at them, wary of what was coming.

   "Stand up," the shorter one ordered. John didn't recognize his voice. He moved slowly to obey the terse command.

   The second man, the one with the rope, moved over beside John and began looping it around his left wrist. Turning him to face the wall, the man drew back his other wrist and fastened the two of them together behind his back.

   "Mister President," the first man said with evident sarcasm, "your presence is requested at a press conference, of sorts." He made a mock bow and drew an improvised hood, a bag of rough material, over John's head. When John looked down, he could see his feet and a few square feet of stone immediately surrounding them, nothing more. The two men grasped his arms above the elbow. Holding John between them, they left the cell.

   The light in the hall outside John's cell was not unduly bright, but it was by far brighter than any John had seen since making the vid recording of the miners' demands. His eyes watered. He shut them tightly. Even inside the hood the brightness was overwhelming. He lowered his head to try to reduce the pain the light had caused.

   "Heads up, Mister President," his first captor demanded, grabbing a handful of hood and hair. He yanked John upright. "We wouldn't want them to think we hadn't been treating you with proper respect, now would we?"

   John glowered. He knew the man couldn't see his expression, but it gave him some small comfort to defy his captors even that much. This had to be some kind of evil joke. *A press conference?* Even as he thought it, the implausibility of such a thing boggled his mind.

   The three of them had walked quite a distance through what John assumed were still tunnels. The rocky floor had stayed largely the same. Here and there they had had to step over metal rails, and once they had skirted a large hole which might have been natural or man- made. He neither knew nor cared. He had thought he was in good shape and that his legs were in good condition. He had been wrong.

   By the time they entered a more open space John was grateful for the extra hands on his arms keeping him from stumbling and losing his balance. He could tell they were in a larger room by the sudden echoing of their footsteps. Another hand on his arm brought him to a halt in the middle of the emptiness. The bag was pulled off and his eyes filled with tears in earnest. There were several lights in the room and two of them were aimed right at him. It took a while for him to even begin to be able to open his eyes.

   The room was almost a cavern. It contained, among other things, a comm link with a vid screen that leaned precariously against one limestone wall. The sides of the room were definitely limestone. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he could see mineral deposits in the accretions on those walls. This room had been carved from solid rock. He guessed that it had been largely the work of water rather than that of men, though picks and machines had finished the job creating a floor flat enough to walk on and arched doorways.

   Water still dripped somewhere nearby. John could hear it. He licked his rough, dry lips. Just the sound of it made him aware how long it had been since he and Delenn had shared the small bottle of water in their cell.

   This room had been inhabited a lot longer than the one where he and Delenn had been held. The stone floor here was worn smooth from use, and it was covered with sweet grass or straw of some kind. He assumed that the straw was to help eliminate the dampness and protect those who lived there from the omnipresent cold. What little furniture he saw was made of wood.

   John could make out a number of people in the room by squinting past the lights. Some of them were women and children. All of the adults were masked or hooded. Apparently his captors were being forced to prove that he was still alive and doing so had involved bringing him into their own living quarters or, at least, emergency quarters. He couldn't imagine anyone living here all the time. Maybe their *press conference* did make some sense after all.

   The two guards, who had led him through the tunnels, brought him to the far side of the room where he was seated unceremoniously on a low, unstable, wooden stool. People moved around him largely ignoring him. A small child ran up to him, stopped and stared. John had always liked children. She was thin, much too thin for a growing child, and there were dark circles under her eyes. John knew signs of starvation when he saw them. He smiled gently at the little girl. She held her ragged doll even more tightly and fled.

   He wondered what in hell he was doing here. Why couldn't they just let him go? ...Let both of them go? He kept looking hopefully for Delenn to be brought in as well. She was not. He wasn't really surprised, but he had hoped.

   Finally a middle-aged man, hooded like the others, approached him. "Mister President," Jacob Watson began in a gruff voice, "we have been requested to arrange a live video link so that the negotiators in the capitol will know that you are alive and well."

   John's ears perked up. This was the first he'd heard about negotiations.

   "They have told us that they will want to question you. We have agreed to this, but with reservations."

   This gruff-voiced individual was the first person John had encountered who seemed to be *in charge.* He didn't know whether to be thankful or not. Looking at the man, he nodded. So far he thought he understood the situation as it had been explained to him.

   Jacob Watson wasn't an evil man. He wasn't even a particularly daring one. He didn't like being the leader of the rebelling miners. He'd rather be working--doing his job, but he had a wife, children, and grandchildren on Havellin Three. He would not let them starve. He would not be bullied by corporate *bean counters.*

   Kidnapping President Sheridan had been the only way he and the others in the miners' guild had believed they could get the attention of the government officials here and elsewhere.

   Clearing his throat, Watson began a litany he had obviously rehearsed. "You will not answer any question until we have indicated that you may do so."

   John nodded.

   "You will answer with as few words as possible. There will be no speeches."

   John nodded again.

   "You will volunteer no information." The man looked at him long and hard. "Do I make myself clear?"

   "Very." John let that word stand for all of those he would have liked to say. Words like "Why are you doing this?" Words like "Where is my wife?"

   "They will get you ready." The man in charge indicated a young man and woman who were bringing a basin of damp cloths. They approached John tentatively; as if, even bound, he could somehow reach out and harm them.

   "Water?" John asked, aware his voice was raspy from want of it.

   "When it is time, you will have enough so that you may speak."

   The man turned and left.

    ----------

   The hotel in Havellin City was bursting at the seams. Negotiators, newsmen, entrepreneurs, and thrill-seekers had descended upon the planet seemingly overnight. This was news, big news.

   Beth Lochley had deserted her blue Earth Force uniform for a plain black dress and pumps. Michael Garibaldi smacked his lips. He was far enough away on the other side of the plaza that she shouldn't have heard him. She shouldn't have even been aware of his presence, but somehow she was. Her eyes met his and he started towards her.

   "May I join you?" he asked in reasonable imitation of the ancient courtship rituals of Earth.

   She smiled with her lips, but it did not reach her eyes. "Of course. What have you learned?" she asked unwilling to waste any time on inanities.

   "Patience," Michael cautioned. "This way, my dear," he continued more loudly. "There must be a decent restaurant somewhere in this place. I found a charming one. It claims to be Italian, but they serve things my grandmother would never have recognized. Still it's food, and they do know how to use garlic and basil for seasoning." He guided her steps out of the main plaza and down a side street.

   After about two blocks, he let himself draw a sigh of relief. "I don't think we're being followed," he admitted. "Although it's damned hard to tell what listening devices they might have and where."

   "Who?" Lochley asked. "The rebels or the government?"

   "Both," Michael asserted tensely. "This is about the unfriendliest planet I've ever been on. Nobody trusts anybody."

   "Ivanova's rule?"

   "Yeah, you got that right. *Trust no one.* That's their motto around here."

   "So, are we going to talk out here, or is there really a restaurant?" Theoretically they shared positions of equal rank, albeit in different organizational structures, but she still liked to be the one in charge.

   "There's a restaurant all right." Michael wasn't offended by Lochley's tendency to take over. He kind of liked that in a woman. It almost made him understand how John could have married her once, long ago. Of course, it also explained why it hadn't worked and why they'd broken up so quickly. "I hope you like garlic."

   Within a few minutes they were in a small bistro featuring red- and-white-checked tablecloths and delicious aromas. Michael waited until they were seated at a corner table in the back and finally left alone by the obsequious waiter before opening any serious discussion. The man had insisted that they must want wine with dinner. Man, Michael hated waiters like that.

   "I know why I'm here," Michael queried, "but who sent you Liz?"

   "General Lefcourt, personally." She looked a little uncomfortable. "He...he relieved me of my command pending a hearing, and sent me here to get John and Delenn--especially John--out. He didn't seem to have much confidence in you or anyone else being able to do it. He told me to play it strictly by the book."

   Garibaldi nodded. He wondered what the old war-horse was up to in telling her that last piece of information.

   "Michael, I'm confused," Liz admitted. She didn't even realize she'd used his given name. "I know all of the regulations--about not negotiating with hostage-takers and terrorists, about not offering or paying ransom, about all of that *official stuff.* What I don't see is how following the regs, like the General told me to, is going to help get them out."

   "Maybe he wasn't telling you to follow the regs, Liz, as much as reminding you to remember which regs John's bound to be following right now." Michael shrugged. "I know John's not Earth Force anymore, but those regulations die hard, and he was an officer, a good officer, for a long time. Ask me. I'm the original I'm-done-with-the-military guy, and here I am still able to quote 'em chapter and verse."

   "I think, instead of worrying about the thou-shalt-not-negotiate regulations, we need to concentrate on the ones about what to do when and if captured. Try to put ourselves inside John's mind, figure out what he's going to do that may help us."

   "*The first duty of a prisoner is to try to escape.*" Beth quoted.

   "That's one," Michael agreed. "And there's one about *not offering assistance or help to the enemy,* and one about *causing as much mayhem within the enemy ranks as you're capable of in any given situation.*"

   "And one about *knowing your own limits and giving in before you let them destroy your mind....*" Beth was almost sorry she'd remembered that one and very sorry that she'd voiced it aloud.

   "That one won't affect John, unless they try to hurt Delenn." Michael assured her. Now if there was only some way he could reassure himself. Captain Lochley had just gotten there. He'd been living with this nightmare for over a week...and with the news Stephen had shared, unwillingly, about Delenn.

   "Michael, can we be sure that they won't hurt her?" she asked.

   "No. No, we can't. If they hurt her, they might just break him." Michael buried his face in his hands rubbing his eyes. He was not going to cry. If he did, he'd have to explain why. He was not. No matter how much the circumstances made him want to.

   "Damn, Liz, I wish I could have that glass of wine about now."

   "It'll be okay, Michael," she assured him. "These people that have got Delenn and the President aren't *stupid.* They're just amateurs."

   "Amateurs," he agreed. She'd hit on a *safe* topic. "You can say that again. They're amateurs split into a dozen different groups each one with a different agenda. Negotiating here is like trying to walk a tightrope in Minbari fog. You can't see where you're putting you foot down, and you can only pray you don't misstep."

   The waiter returned with large bowls of linguini covered with sauce that smelled heavenly, even if the color looked a little *off.* Both of them rolled their eyes and dug in. For several minutes there were no sounds other than those of enjoyment and food being consumed.

   

   Chapter Ten

   Press Conference

   

   The young woman, who had helped clean the blood and dirt off of John's face, brought him a metal cup about half-full of water. He was still seated on the small stool with his arms tied behind him. A shirt of dirty gray material had been pulled over his head. They hadn't bothered to place his arms in the sleeves. It wasn't fashionable, but it was warm.

   "It must be almost time," he thought licking his dry lips. She held the cup carefully so that he could drink from it and none would be spilled. He hadn't been able to see himself when they were done washing him, but he felt cleaner. The shirt kept him warm enough, at least from the waist up. His shoulders were stiff, but his arms and wrists had stopped aching. He figured they were numb by now, like his legs.

   Her partner, the young man, had fashioned a small field-dressing bandage for the cut on his temple. He had meticulously taped it in place with four small carefully torn pieces of medical tape. John had noted that all supplies, including medical ones, seemed to be tightly rationed.

   "Are you ready, Mister President?" The middle-aged man, who had outlined the rules for this *press conference* earlier, asked reappearing through one of the many doors to the room.

   "As ready as I'll ever be," John asserted. He'd already had the argument with the young man about where Delenn was, about not cooperating if she was not brought to him. All the younger man had done was shrug and repeat that it "was not possible." John had given up, for now. The bright lights were aimed again at his face.

   As he watched, the comm link activated and the video connection was made. It was not even a secure channel. I.S.N. and the news nets would have a field day with this. He wondered if he should make a suggestion, and thought better of it. He was intensely aware of the burns on his neck and the collar still encircling it. Why give them another reason to hurt him?

   The collar was tucked inside the borrowed shirt, out of sight, but the burns it had made were not so easily hidden. He hoped that Michael or Zack, or someone who knew what they were, would see them and understand. It would almost make the pain he'd undergone worthwhile if they'd realize how much coercion he was under.

   "Mister President, can you hear me?" A small man in a rumpled suit peered anxiously into the vid screen. "Who the hell is he?" John wondered.

   The man who had explained the rules to John nodded permission to respond.

   "Yes. I can hear you."

   The man made a chopping motion across his throat. Obviously, just 'yes' would have been sufficient in his opinion.

   "Stay on the line," the little man requested. He stepped out of the frame, and it was immediately filled with Centauri ambassador Londo Mollari. His outrageous fan of hair brought gasps from some of those watching the transmission on John's end. *He is unique,* John thought.

   "Mister President, are you all right?" Londo asked pointedly. John tried to remember the last time Londo had called him *Mister President.* Maybe he had at his inauguration, but certainly not since. When he was in a good mood it was *John.* When he was angry, it was *Sheridan,* but never *Mister President.*

   The man nodded.

   "Yes," John responded. He almost added "Mister Ambassador," but thought better of it, watching the stony expression on his censor's face.

   "And Ambassador Delenn, is she all right?"

   The man didn't like the question, but nodded to John that he could answer it.

   "I don't know," John said truthfully.

   Londo indicated with a gesture that John should go on. He looked, helplessly, at the man censoring this chat. He did not want his wife hurt because he had said too much or not enough.

   The man nodded again.

   John took a deep breath. "She was fine, ...the last time I saw her."

   The man smiled. His captive had done well with that answer, in his opinion.

   John thought about what he had told them, if they were paying attention. He'd told them that they had been separated, but had been together at one time. Now, they'd know that they were looking for two separate hostages--not for the pair of them together.

   Londo's face was replaced by G'Kar's. *Bless his spots,* John thought, realizing that he and Delenn had not been deserted by the Alliance, that they were there trying to help with the negotiations. He felt his heart lift just a little.

   "Are you being well treated?" G'Kar asked. He used no honorific.

   "I have been fed and given water. My wound has been bandaged." That was the absolute, if not quite honest, truth. Undrugged water and medical care had come only when he had to be made presentable for this interview.

   He suddenly realized that he had not waited for permission to answer. His eyes sought those of the man in charge furtively. The man did not seem displeased and, indeed, might not even have noticed. John drew another deep breath and let it out slowly.

   "And Delenn?" G'Kar followed the logical course.

   John did not know what to say. To tell the truth was to condemn some or all of those holding him, and possibly doom them both. He closed his eyes, seeing her lying helpless on the floor while that creature ran his hands over her. The young man who had bandaged his cut reached out and gently tapped his leg. John opened his eyes.

   The censor, thinking John was waiting for his permission, waved his hand impatiently at him.

   "Yes," he answered with the lie, but couldn't leave it at that. "I'm worried about her. She's never been a prisoner before, she doesn't understand the rules."

   The middle-aged man stepped between John and the vid screen. His back was to that screen. He drew back his right arm and the sound of a blow was heard through the audio channel. When Watson stepped aside, it was obvious that John was having some difficulty maintaining his seated position. A small trickle of blood ran down from the left corner of his mouth. A hand reached out, from the side, and steadied him letting him recover his balance.

   "What happened, John?" G'Kar's voice was filled with concern.

   The man nodded.

   "I didn't follow instructions," John replied carefully. There it was--a flat blunt statement for anyone who wanted to hear. "This is not a press conference," it screamed. "This is a puppet show."

   Again the face on the vid screen changed.

   It was Elizabeth Lochley, out of uniform and wearing a negotiator's identi-badge. John didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

   "Captain," she began. "Are you familiar with regulation four- twenty-one?"

   She had surprised him twice with that little speech--first by calling him by his former rank and then, again, by calling up regulations, as if rules mattered at a time like this.

   The censor looked unsure. He eyed John carefully. John shrugged. He knew lots of regulations. Finally, the man nodded.

   John reply was as succinct as anyone could have wished, "Yes."

   "Regulation 'four-two-one': Permission to give in, permission to save your sanity." John remembered. Only one person John had ever known had called it *four twenty-one.* That came straight from General Lefcourt himself. *The big guns are out on this one.* He felt better just knowing he had friends and that they cared.

   "John, do you know where they are holding you?" Beth asked.

   That question shouldn't have been allowed. John knew it, but he also knew that the answer to it would change nothing. He waited for the censor's decision.

   The man nodded again.

   "No. No, I don't." John suspected that this little charade was now over with and that he'd be escorted back to his cell just as quickly whether he gave a one-word answer or wrote an essay on the subject.

   He was right. The video part of the circuit was frozen--probably still showing his face--and two of his captors took turns, alternating, reading--yet again--their list of demands for his release.

   It took him a moment to realize that they hadn't been talking about *their release,* but *his release.*

   *What about Delenn? What about...?* Now, he was worried. Somehow the stakes had been changed, and it was no longer a package deal. He closed his eyes trying to concentrate on the rapidly read words. Had anything else changed in the list of demands? If it had, he'd missed it.

   The transmission was over. The comm unit was shut down, and the bag replaced over his head. Hands helped him rise from the stool and guided him down the hallway. His numb legs did not want to support his weight. Even with help from his captors, he limped awkwardly. Most of the pain was in his knees and hips, from sitting so long on the low stool.

   The two, who had cleaned him up, returned him to the same room where he had been held before. It was cold, dark, and claustrophobically small. Without Delenn it seemed unbearably empty.

   The young man removed the bag from his head and pulled the shirt off over his tousled hair. He carefully untied the rope around John's wrists coiling it for later use and laid it on the floor with the bag. He handed the shirt to the young woman who folded it over her arm.

   She looked embarrassed at having to take the shirt away from their captive. From the pocket of her coverall she produced another piece of the hard bread he had shared with Delenn. She had brought it for him.

   John was hungry, but he had seen the emaciated faces of the children. He had seen their greatest need. He pushed the bread back into her hands shaking his head, "No." She looked at him with disbelief and then, perhaps, dawning understanding.

   He was not a bad man, this President of the Interstellar Alliance. She had hated him when food had been withdrawn from store shelves for the banquet in his honor. He had not known when he sat down to dinner in Government House, that he was being served food enough to last many families many days. Now, when he realized that the true *coin* here was food, he had returned it to her. Even though she knew he hadn't eaten in two days, and not much before that, he had thrust it back into her hands.

   John Sheridan had seen the depths of their suffering, she realized. He'd smiled at the little girl with her cuddly who had fled from him. He'd, also, apparently understood the horrible costs those young bodies would pay if food, decent and plentiful, wasn't available and soon. She tucked the crust of bread back into her pocket. She'd see to it that it went to the children.

   As she turned to leave, she reached out and patted him gently on the shoulder. He never knew her name but, as the door closed behind them, the memory of her touch helped sustain him.

   "Four twenty-one." Lefcourt had offered him a way out, but he couldn't see how he could take it. He had no information these people wanted. In fact, right now, he had nothing at all. Well, not quite nothing. He had the love of a beautiful woman and friends, good friends, who were trying to help.

   John lay down on the rough blanket. He willed himself to sleep. He still had something.

    ----------

   In the conference room, which had been used for the *press conference,* things were as hectic as imaginable.

   Tapes that had been made were being run and re-run. Journalists were searching desperately for *sound bytes* in the blunt *yes* and *no* responses.

   "He was seated on something. You can see here where he almost toppled off and had to be steadied." G'Kar shook his head.

   "His arms were definitely tied." Beth commented looking over Londo's shoulder and around his perfectly erect hair.

   "...Probably behind him. You notice he never attempted to wipe away the blood at the corner of his mouth," Londo observed cutting her off.

   "Yeah," and Garibaldi added, "look how far back his shoulders are in all of those shots. It was definitely under duress, all of it."

   "Did you expect anything else?" Beth Lochley asked him.

   "Nah! But you can always hope."

   The two of them moved away from the crowd around the vid screens.

   "We don't know a whole lot more than we knew before," Garibaldi sighed. "I hope it was worth it."

   "Well, we know they've been separated, and that he really doesn't know where she is or if she's okay." Beth observed. "Not that that's good news."

   "True, and they're treating him like *shit.* He was lying through his teeth about food, water, and medical care. He was hosed down and dolled up just for that performance. You could still see the red marks on his face where they'd scrubbed the dried blood off and did you see the burns on his neck?"

   "Any idea what made those marks?" Lochley wondered aloud.

   "*Paingivers.* It's gotta be *paingivers.* The same damned thing Clarke's men used on him on Mars." Michael shook his head. He was no longer talking to anyone but himself. "It took forever for the burn marks to heal."

   Beth Lochley shook her head in sympathy, and Michael seemed to realize she was still there. "You know that was the only time he didn't wait for permission to answer, and the guy let him talk."

   "Probably because he was saying what they wanted him to say,"

   "Yeah!" Michael agreed with her. They stepped together out into the echoing foyer of Government House.

   "Do you think he got my message? General Lefcourt's message?" she asked.

   "Yeah, I figure he got it. I just hope he doesn't have to act on it." Only a member of Earth Force would have known and understood the message within that carefully worded question. Michael knew, Beth knew, and John knew the very last provision of regulation *four-two- one.* Whenever anyone else had questioned either of them about it, Michael and Beth had responded with the standard provisions from the beginning of the regulation: permission to let yourself break before your mind can be destroyed. It sounded so humane, until one realized that the last part of the regulation was, also, permission to kill yourself before they broke your will to do it. Suicide under such circumstances was not considered cowardice.

   Lefcourt really wanted John back. However, if that wasn't an option, then death was, in his opinion, preferable to being a puppet, a mindless tool. Beth shuddered. That farce of a *press conference* had looked all too much like a puppet show.

   Michael shuddered, too, trying to comprehend what might happen.

   "What if, oh, Lord, " he hated to even think it. "What if, they got Delenn back when everything was said and done, but they lost John? Delenn was strong, but would she be able to face that? Would he and Lochley be able to look her in the eye and tell her they'd passed on a message telling John to...? " He ran his hand over the smooth top of his head knowing that if he'd had any hair left, he'd be pulling it out by the roots about now. "...And what about the baby? Stephen hadn't wanted to tell him about that, but he, also, *had* wanted someone to know...just in case."

   He sat down on one of the small benches with which the foyer abounded. He pulled Beth Lochley down beside him, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

   Beth had liked John Sheridan well enough at one time. Hell, she'd married him back when they were both young and ambitious, back in her academy days. Now, she didn't like him all that much. Though she admired his military accomplishments, she would never have emulated them. She wasn't a rebel; she believed in Earth Force. Since she'd taken over command of Babylon Five, it had felt like John had gone out of his way to make her job there as difficult as possible. Still, sending the general's message, giving him permission to kill himself *that* had hurt. She hadn't wanted to do it. She'd done it because General Lefcourt had ordered her to, but she *never* wanted to have to do it again. Beth Lochley reached out and gently, tentatively took Michael's hand.

   "It'll be okay, Beth." Michael tried to reassure her. "Somehow, it'll be okay."

   They sat for a long while just holding onto each other. It was poor comfort, but better than none.

   

   Chapter Eleven

   A Matter of Perspective

   

   Delenn sat in what should have been the co-pilot seat of the freighter *Wallabee.* It was an old, ugly ship her captors had commandeered. A man she never seen before, the others called him Herb, sat in the pilot's chair.

   Herbert Jones was an experienced pilot. He, also, wasn't a stupid one. He was well aware that government officials had blown the last ship full of *escaping miners* to space debris. Their only hope of getting safely off this planet was the half-Minbari wife of John Sheridan who sat now in the seat beside him.

   "The codes?" Herb requested. "The clearance codes?"

   He was nervous, clearly unsure whether or not she would give him accurate information to allow them to safely leave this planet. He for one had no intentions of ever coming back, once he got away.

   True to his word, Hank had excluded the boss from the trip. To the best of Delenn's knowledge there were only the four of them on the ship: herself, Hank, Woody, and Herb, the pilot.

   "Enter code sequence *Alpha two.* Code: seven, fourteen, nine, zero, one." She recited the numbers slowly and clearly.

   Herb entered the code numbers as she supplied them. Immediately the green clearance light on the ship's board lit.

   "All right!" he said, waiting impatiently for the next open launch window. It looked to be only three to four minutes away.

    ----------

   At the Havellin Three spaceport control facility, all hell had just broken loose. Someone, in a nondescript freighter, was using Ambassador Delenn's personal clearance code to launch themselves off- planet.

   No one knew for sure whether or not the Minbari Ambassador was aboard the vessel. The only thing they knew for sure was that it had keyed in both her priority clearance--*Alpha two*--and her code clearance--seven, fourteen, nine, zero, one.

   "Either Delenn is on that ship or someone who has access to information only she would have is?" The controller in charge of releasing ships for launch looked grimly at the nearly antique ship. He didn't know whether to hope she was on the ship or hope that she wasn't. It was a very old freighter with a crude propulsion system. If she'd never experienced a high-g take off before, she was going to do so, assuming she was on the ready-to-depart vessel. No way could he hold a ship with those clearance codes.

   A dark-haired Ranger, who had become part of the background in the control center at the spaceport, touched his personal link. He knew it was time to act. The man alerted those waiting in orbit aboard White Star Twelve. He spoke swiftly and in Adronato. No one in the control center even noticed him. He ordered the launching ship followed and its activities monitored. He knew his orders would be promptly and efficiently obeyed. Normally, he served as the executive office on that White Star, but the current situation had forced some of the Rangers from his ship to man key posts on the planet itself.

   As soon as he had arrived on planet, Mr. Garibaldi had insisted that the Rangers set guards at the spaceport and begin monitoring all communications. When he had needed transportation to Havellin Three, it was *not* a coincidence that Michael had chosen White Star Twelve. He knew that it had often served as Sheridan and Delenn's flag ship during the Shadow War. No crew and no group of Rangers could be more personally loyal to the *first family* of the Alliance.

   The aging freighter *Wallabee,* which had only been waiting for an open launch window, launched smoothly--no one in the control center could override an *Alpha* clearance. It had escaped from Havellin Three, but it would be shadowed and watched all the way to its destination no matter how far away.

   The mayhem in the control tower died down. Port authorities agreed that they couldn't keep a ship with a priority clearance from launching, no matter what they suspected. The Ranger gratefully patted him comm link. He'd done the right thing. Instinctively he'd known that by the time these fools made up their minds what they wanted to do, it would be too late. It had been. While they had debated, the ore freighter had grabbed an empty launch space and catapulted itself skyward.

   It was a dot disappearing into the turquoise sky above the spaceport when Michael Garibaldi came running, full speed, up the tower steps. He hadn't waited for the lift. He hadn't waited for anything. He was still too late.

   "Too late!" Michael swore vehemently.

   "Not quite." The Ranger pointed to his link. "Shadow and surveillance in progress. It may not be anything more pertinent than a group of escaping miners, but I didn't think we could take the chance."

   "Thanks." Michael hung onto the young man while he fought to catch his breath. "You done good."

    ----------

   Aboard the *Wallabee,* Delenn felt as if an angry giant had just shaken her insides. She prayed silent to Valen to protect her and the child within her. She had forgotten that such crude forms of propulsion still existed. She shook her head. At least, now she could say she had survived a rocket-propelled launch. She wondered to herself how many *gravities* she and the baby had been subjected to. Two or three, at least, she estimated.

   Woody and the pilot seemed to have come through the launch without problems. Hank, however, was holding his side as if favoring a damaged rib.

   "Are you all right?" she asked.

   "I'm fine. Just fine. Now, leave me alone, lady. Please."

   He was in pain. She understood.

   "May I go back to the cabin now?" she requested.

   "Get out of here." Hank motioned her out of the control cabin and into the back portion of the ship.

   Delenn had no idea what she looked like moving gracefully through the door and into the passageway. She moved in weightlessness as she had been taught--with a minimum of effort expended and a maximum use of her body's supple flexibility.

   She wore only the short ivory satin shift she had been left with from before. Her legs looked long and evocative of, oh so many, feminine charms.

   Hank turned to Woody and found him as he had expected to, oogling the Minbari ambassador's departing form.

   "Cut it out, Woody. She's a married woman, for Christ's sake."

   "So what? I coulda had her on Havellin, with her husband sitting right there and watching. I coulda had her anytime I wanted her." Like a peacock he seemed to puff himself up with his own importance. "Right now, she's like hanging meat." He smiled at his own metaphor. "The longer it waits the sweeter it gets."

   Fortunately for Delenn's peace of mind, she was already out of earshot.

   Herb turned back to his controls in disgust, and Hank fought the buckle holding him in place in the padded take-off seat. He didn't remember having anything in his pocket before blast-off, but something had sure made a dent in his ribcage. He finally released the stubborn seatbelt, groaned, and sat up. He figured he could use about sixteen hours of sack time, starting right now.

   In the cabin, Delenn had tried the locking mechanism on the door and found it to be, like so many things on this ship, not working. If they wanted to come in, she had no way to keep them out. She'd have to rely on the help they wanted from her, in ending the rebellion and freeing their planet, to ensure her safety.

   Climbing awkwardly up into a free-fall bunk, she pulled the shiny blanket they had let her keep over and around her body. She fastened the blanket in the small metallic clamps that lined the edges of the bunk. They were a precaution, so she wouldn't drift off of the bunk in her sleep. She drew a deep breath. She was tired. Her body ached all over from the unusual stresses of a high-g takeoff. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine John enduring just such takeoffs during the Earth/Minbari War. It had been so very long ago. She smiled at her memory of him and drifted off to sleep.

    ----------

   On Havellin Three, the negotiation team sat down cautiously around the large conference room table in Government House. On one side sat representatives of the miner's guild and union. On the other side sat those of the government and the mining corporation. Members of the Interstellar Alliance had placed themselves strategically between the two groups at the head and foot of the table. Earth Force personnel had been assigned to guard the door to the room and the main entrances and exits from the building. They were ready to go. It was a secure as Beth and Michael had been able to make it working together and stretching their resources to the limit.

   "The first issue on the table, sentients, is water," G'Kar intoned. He was used to speaking over the babble of many species communicating at once. Humans he noted were not much different in this respect than most of the others he dealt with on Babylon Five. They always thought requests for silence were aimed at others, never themselves.

   "As I understand it," Londo began the discussion, "this planet has large amounts of water, much of which is present in the form of polar ice caps."

   All parties nodded agreement.

   "And all that is needed to turn this polar ice into drinkable water is a heat source?"

   Again, there was agreement.

   "How many calories of heat would you say one ore smelter generates on any given day? I'm talking about normal operation, assuming nothing changes."

   The opposing parties looked at each other across the shining mahogany surface.

   "It's really very simple, when you find the right perspective." Londo Mollari beamed at all concerned.

   

   Chapter Twelve

   All Alone

   

   John Sheridan was cold and alone, oh, so very alone. He'd wrapped himself in the rough blanket like a cocoon trying to trap some of his own body's heat to warm him. It had helped, but not much.

   He'd tried remembering warm things--sunshiny beaches, glowing campfires, Delenn's arms, steaming hot showers. He could fall asleep comforted by their images, but he always awoke shivering. He didn't think he was ill. He desperately hoped that he was not. If he got sick here, he could die. He knew it. They did not care.

   Someone should have brought him some clothing. They were obviously aware of his near nakedness. They'd given him a shirt for that farce they'd called a *press conference,* and then taken it back again as soon as it was over.

   "They know," he assured himself. "They just don't care."

   He was hungry and thirsty.

   He conjured up images of good things to eat and drink: hot cocoa, warm Minbari tea, oranges dripping with juice, a steak cooked medium- well, his mother's hot apple pie. All he was doing was making himself salivate. It wasn't helping. He stopped.

   Moving to the corner of the room furthest from the door and light, he curled himself into the smallest space possible. Bracing his shoulders in the corner between the two rock walls, he draped the dirty, gray blanket over his head. Breathing and re-breathing the same air under the blanket might give him a headache from carbon dioxide trapped there, but anything would be better than this awful, soul- draining cold.

   John didn't remember falling asleep, but he assumed he must have when his mother suddenly appeared with a piece of warm apple pie, a small slice of sharp cheddar cheese, and large glass of milk in her hands for him. "Mom!" He greeted her with open arms.

    ----------

   Delenn awoke in the now darkened cabin of the freighter *Wallabee.* She was aware that someone else was in the room with her, someone who was wearing magnetic clips on his boots. She had heard them click as they made contact with and then released their hold on the metal deck. She knew it had to be one of the three men. She thought she knew which one.

   Lying very still, she waited for him to come close enough for her to strike out at him. She was afraid, but not petrified by her fear. He came closer, but not close enough. Finally, she opened her eyes. That was what he had been waiting for. He thumbed the switch on the *paingivers.*

   Delenn screamed.

   "Go ahead, baby, scream your lungs out. There's only you, me, and the other two guys." Woody stood in the middle of the room with the switch that controlled the *paingivers* in his hands, "They don't care and, me, I kinda like it."

   He thumbed the switch off, walked over and picked up the sobbing wife of John Sheridan. Lifting her carefully he carried her out of the cabin and down to one of the many cargo bays on the old ship. With the ship in free fall, it was almost too easy.

   "You be nice to me, and there won't be no more need for them things." He indicated the *paingivers* on her wrists. "Right now, they're just insurance--in case you decide you don't want to do things my way." In the huge empty cargo bay, he laid her down on the deck plating, holding her in place with one hand.

   Delenn quivered under the man's touch. Her dark hair floated around her head. Strands of it clung to tear-stained cheeks. She'd never realized it was possible to hurt someone so badly, so easily. "I thought you left the..." she gulped a great mouthful of air trying to stop sobbing, "...controller with Barney, with your boss." Her voice echoed in the metal hold.

   "That fool. Barney likes to think he's the *boss.* We humor him, mostly. He's big and he's mean. When you need somebody beaten up or hurt so they don't forget it real soon, Barney is the man for the job." Woody really didn't want to talk about Barney just now. He had other things on his mind.

   "I did leave Barney his controller so he'd have it, just in case they needed it, to keep your husband in line, but seein' as how I built the first one, it was no big trick to build another one, just for us, just for now." He ran his hand slowly up her leg.

   Delenn brought her bound hands down to stop him.

   He waved the controller at her. This was an old, old game. He liked playing it.

   "Do you really want to do this the hard way?" he asked.

   Tears welled up in her eyes. She did not want to be hurt, but neither could she stand the thought of his hands on her.

   *Please, don't let him hurt me,* she prayed. *Please, Valen, don't let him hurt the baby?* She wanted their baby so much and she knew John did, too. The thought that this *creature* might take it from her deliberately or by accident was almost too much to bear.

   "Just remember, you wanted it this way," he growled pleased in a perverse way by her defiance.

   He reached for her wrists trapping them in one of his large hands. Minbari, as a rule, are much stronger than humans are. She should have been able to fight him off easily, but she had been days without food and water, days under the stress of not knowing who was going to hurt them or when, and she was no longer pure Minbari.

   At first she was surprised by his actions. He released the clasp that held the two *paingivers* together. Now, she wore one on each wrist like bracelets. Holding one of her wrists in his large hand, he sought for and found with his other hand one of the huge rings set in the cargo bay floor. They were there for tying off cargo shipments, so that the crates and bundles did not float around during periods of weightlessness. They worked equally well for tying other things down.

   When her first wrist was fastened securely to the floor of the cargo bay, he stopped and looked down at her. She was so beautiful, so helpless. He removed his boots and coverall while she watched. She was afraid of him. He knew it. He liked this part. He could almost taste her fear.

   Woody reached across her body. He wanted to secure her second wrist as he had the first one. Delenn could see old scars on his chest and torso through the coarse matted hair that seemed to cover most of his body. She knew she didn't stand much chance against this despicable brute, but she was unwilling to accept defeat even now.

   She swung at him. She connected, more from luck than skill and sent the big man tumbling backwards away from her across the huge bay. She had bought herself a little time, not much, but maybe enough.

   Delenn strained to swing her body around so that she could reach and release her bound wrist. If he was a trained spacer, she knew he'd be back before she could do much of anything, but she had to try. She heard the sickening thud when he hit the far end of the cargo bay.

   The pain when it came was not unexpected. He had chosen the easiest way to subdue her. Her hands were no longer part of her. They were separate screaming entities, encased in agony.

   Woody was back. Delenn cringed away from him, trying to keep herself out of his grasp. It did no good. He was on top of her, and the pain had not stopped. He showed no intention or interest in stopping it.

   She did not know how long she had been screaming, only that she had used all of the air in her lungs and been forced to stop to draw a breath. She felt his hands on her. Moving one of them over her bonecrest, he entwined his fingers in her hair pulling her head back exposing her throat and chest to him. Delenn screamed again.

   

   Chapter Thirteen

   Problems and Solutions

   

   "Regarding the question of the emigration laws," Governor Thomas Dodson said. "We, who represent the government and the Havellin Mining Corporation, feel that we have been more than generous in allowing those who have just and reasonable cause to leave this planet to depart. We cannot see our way clear at this time to allow unrestricted emigration. If everyone is allowed to leave, there will be no planet."

   "And, if that is what is meant to be, that is what will be." G'Kar's gravelly voice cut off what was promising to be a long and pompous speech. He was getting good a paraphrasing himself. "You cannot force people, who do not want to be here, to stay. Nor, should you--the corporation or the government--be allowed to keep out those who wish to come here."

   "...Wish to come?" Dodson looked thoroughly confused by G'Kar's last statement. He ran his hand through his thinning, gray hair and peered at the Narn with watery blue eyes.

   "What is he driving at?" the Governor wondered silently.

   "Yes." G'Kar warmed to his topic and Londo surreptitiously stifled a desire to be somewhere else with a tall cool glass of something in his hand. They had some very *interesting* wines on this planet.

   "You cannot be allowed to maintain a monopoly on this planet. I can foresee a much larger problem with immigration than you have had to date with emigration. You do, of course, know that you have some of the largest natural deposits of Quantium 40 yet discovered on this planet."

   Tom Dodson sat back in his chair.

   "Quantium 40?"

   He looked at the other mining company personnel sitting at the table with him. Several shook their heads negatively, and one or two looked like they would like to drop quietly through holes in the floor.

   G'Kar continued, "With the increase in trade created by the Interstellar Alliance's peace, you *should* make a fortune selling Quantium 40 to those who wish to manufacture jumpgates for new markets."

   "Fortune!" The governor, like most of those gathered around the conference table, was not immune to the promise of wealth.

   "You will, however, not be allowed to exclude competition, that could be considered *restraint of trade* and would be grounds for interference on the part of neighboring governments. We do not wish to see such a situation unfold."

   Michael Garibaldi paused in his rounds. Even though talks had progressed well, he still believed in keeping security awake and alert. He overheard, accidentally on purpose, G'Kar's speech regarding the Quantium 40 and Dodson's reaction.

   "It'd serve him right," Michael thought, "if his people got the smallest piece of the pie, not that even a small piece was going to be anything to sneeze at."

   "Ideally, I can see several large firms operating here and all of them making reasonable profits. They will, of course, be competing for all the jumpgate metals the independent miners on this planet can produce. I should expect that will raise both prices and the standard of living."

   G'Kar sat down in the leather chair which surrounded the conference table. It was not quite large enough to hold a full-grown Narn comfortably, but he made do. He folded his hands on the table before him.

   The members of the miners' guild and union looked at each other and whooped. Obviously none of them had ever bother to check into other metals that they could be mining to make their living. Jeremy Cobb, one of the miners' representatives shook his head in utter disbelief. Tom Dodson, the planetary governor, sat back equally chagrined. They'd dealt primarily in morbidium--the metal used to make phased plasma weapons and defenses--for so many years that it had never occurred to them to look elsewhere.

   "How could it all be so simple?"

   Dodson didn't know. He shook his head and extended his hand across the table to Jacob Watson, the head of the miners' guild.

   Watson met his eyes and his grip firmly. Havellin Three was no longer going to be a monopoly for the corporation, but there should be more than enough--much more than enough--to go around.

   "I would encourage you, also...." Londo Mollari attempted to insert his comments amid the conviviality spreading around the table. "I would encourage you, also," he began again, "to consider becoming members of the Interstellar Alliance. We can arrange to have emergency food drops made for now, but you really need some better techniques for growing your own food, as well as more imports. What the Alliance offers mostly is technological equality. Peace is a by-product of that."

   Miners and corporate officials slapped each other on the back.

   "Now," thought Londo, "would be a good time for someone to break out some brandy, perhaps a little wine, some food."

   In the plaza outside, fireworks could be heard exploding into the early evening sky. It was time to celebrate.

    ----------

   A P.P.G. blast ricocheted off the cargo bay floor beside Delenn's struggling body. Only the very edge of the beam touched Delenn's side. It was enough. She went kicking and screaming into the depths of unconsciousness, her body floating from the single anchor of her wrist.

   A second P.P.G. blast took J. J. Woodbury full in the chest. He was dead before his body hit the far wall of the bay. "We're rebels, not rapists," Hank Cutler screamed after his former partner's corpse. Herb, who had entered just behind Hank, stood braced in the doorway.

   "Oh, shit, what do I do now?"

   Hank thought fast. He had an unconscious and possibly dying hostage and a dead fool on his hands. He motioned with his arm for Herb to check out Woody's body.

   The pilot shoved himself over to the floating corpse. The man was dead all right. In his pocket, Herb found the controller for the *paingivers.* It was still in the *on* position. Thumbing it off, Herb knew that what Hank had done was right.

   "That son of a...." he didn't finish the thought. He shook his head angrily. "He was a sadist, as well as a rapist."

   Pulling the corpse to the closest airlock, Herb did the expedient thing: he finished stripping off Woody's gear and spaced his body. The cargo bay airlocks of the *Wallabee* didn't have view screens or windows, but he knew what a spaced body looked like well enough to imagine the scene outside.

   "Good riddance to bad rubbish."

   Delenn was, thankfully, still breathing when Hank got to her. Carefully he untied the loop of the *paingiver* on her left wrist from the huge ring in the cargo bay door. He really didn't have a key to the damnable things, but he did know where the tools were kept.

   Scrounging a hammer and screwdriver large enough to be used for a chisel took only a few minutes. Padding her wrists, so that he could use a decent amount of force to break the malicious things, took longer. Just once he slipped. He thought he heard a delicate bone crack under the blow. He winced at the sound, but he knew he had to get the metal bands off of her wrists and he had to do it now. The burns under them had begun to blister and ooze already.

   Once she had been freed of the *paingivers,* Hank gently lifted the First Lady of the Alliance and carefully maneuvered her body back to her cabin. He laid her on the wall-mounted bunk, straightened her shift, and wrapped the silver blanket around her body. He fastened it with a few clips, so that she would not float free of the bunk.

   Within six or seven hours he figured they should be close enough to a jumpgate that he could put her in a lifepod and let her own people take care of her. He spread salve from the ships medical kit on both of her wrists, and taped a cold pack to the one that was swelling already. He didn't know what else to do.

   Delenn never stirred through all of his ministrations. She was far away in a place where there was "no justice, no mercy, no hope." The present had only brought her pain. He couldn't blame her for staying unconscious.

    ----------

   A young woman, with a bowl of soup in her hands and a small child clinging to her pants leg, offered the soup to the man huddled in the far corner of the room. At first she didn't think he saw her. His eyes when he finally looked her way were unfocused. She didn't think he knew anyone was there. Then he had called out.

   "Mom!"

   His voice had been full of love and longing. His eyes brightened with the first happiness she had ever seen him display. She had hated bringing him back to reality. She held out the food to him, again.

   "For you," the little girl said.

   John dropped his head to his hands. He had to separate reality from fantasy. He had to. The blanket was real. He rubbed the coarse fabric of it between his numbed fingers. The cold was real. He had been shivering for a very long time. He raised his head, looking long and hard at the young woman, child, and bowl of *something* that she held out to him in none-too-steady hands. He wanted her to be real.

   He reached out for the bowl of soup.

   She set it down on the floor, close enough for him to touch it. Warily, he let just one finger slide along the edge of the heavy crockery. It was real. He could feel the steam rising from it.

   He picked it up and greedily drank the contents not caring how hot it was, only that it was food. ...And it *was* hot. He felt the warmth of it rise through him, spreading out from his almost over-full stomach. He had been so cold, so deathly cold.

   Somehow he had expected the woman to disappear while he was consuming her gift, but when he looked up she was still standing just inside the door, watching him, wide-eyed.

   "Thank you," he said, knowing his words were inadequate to the gift, knowing that she had brought it to him against orders or, at least, without permission.

   He tried to smile at the little girl. She was no less wide-eyed than her mother was, and her hair was the same rich auburn color.

   "They have such beautiful children," he thought.

   "Tatia." The woman spoke to the red-haired child who immediately ducked around the door and returned carrying a parcel wrapped in discolored paper and tied with string. The little girl set it down beside her mother and began untying the string.

   John could not imagine what was in it, or why this child should be bringing it to him. But, when the paper was removed and carefully folded and husbanded, like the string and the rope before it, he swallowed hard.

   In the package the child held out to him were clothes, his clothes from the night he'd been taken and brought to this place. The seams in the jacket and shirt had been meticulously mended with tiny stitches. Everything was clean and smelled of fresh air. Nothing was missing. They had even included both of their wedding bands, Delenn's Zocalo-purchased engagement ring, and the gold cuff links with the IA insignia that he had worn so proudly.

   John Sheridan didn't know what to say. Somehow, *thank you* didn't seem adequate to this moment, but he had no other words. "Thank you, Tatia," he said, and bending low over her hand, as if she were some great lady, he kissed the back of it.

   The little girl giggled. His beard tickled.

   Standing slowly and carefully, so as not to alarm either one of them, he removed the soiled and worn blanket from his shoulders. Folding it carefully, as he had seen these people do with other thing, he offered it to the young mother.

   As he had refused her gift of the children's bread, she now refused to take his only source of warmth in this place. She pushed it back into his hands and indicated that he should wrap it around himself. He did. Grateful for her generosity, he sought a way to communicate with her. She obviously didn't speak English or any of the trade tongues.

   He racked his brain for other languages he could try. He didn't know many, and he didn't feel like making a fool of himself in any of those right now. He knew a little Minbari--mostly Adronato, a little Russian, less French, and much less German. He could swear in Centauri and in Narn. Ambassadors can be so educational when they get angry with each other.

   As if sensing his dilemma, Tatia volunteered, "Mommy's deaf. She can't hear anything you say, and she only says a few words herself." John looked at the young woman before him. That explained many things. "Thank you, Tatia. I think I understand," he told her.

   Smiling at her mother, John formed his hand into a loose fist and let it circle his heart. Then extending the fingers flat he touched them to his lips and pointed them, palm upwards in her direction. It was the very first sign his sister, Lizzy, had taught him when she was learning them as a requirement for one of her university courses. If he'd done it right, it meant "thank you."

   Apparently he had done it right. She gave him a huge smile. She was a pretty woman he realized, who would be beautiful if she were not so terribly thin.

   Immediately, the young mother's hands flew in a flurry of signs. Even if he had known more than a smattering of sign language, he could never have kept up with her.

   When she looked to see if he was following her, he was forced to shake his head, "no." She nodded in understanding.

   "My wife? " he asked hoping against hope. "Is she all right?"

   The woman shrugged her shoulders. She didn't know. It had been a faint hope, but he had asked anyway. The mother signed something to the little girl, and the child translated as well as she could.

   "Mommy says she's not here, ...and I don't think she knows where they took her. Far away, I think." Tatia looked uncertain. "I don't know the sign." John nodded his understanding to the child and her mother.

   "Tatia, I need you to ask your mommy one more thing for me. Can you do that?" He watched as she shyly nodded *yes.* "Was Delenn...was she hurt?" Tatia looked at him as if it was a vaguely silly question to ask, but she did her best anyway. John didn't have to wait for a translation; the emphatic *no* was loud and clear.

   "Thank God." The automatic response hadn't been intended for Tatia's mother, but the child dutifully passed it along. They both smiled at his reaction. Picking up the now-empty bowl, and the paper and string from the parcel, she gestured for Tatia to hold the door.

   John walked the two of them to the cell door. He smiled his thanks again and waited, listening, while the bolt was once again drawn imprisoning him.

   He could have forced his way out. There had only been two of them--a woman, deaf and nearly mute, and a young child.

   Somehow he knew, while it might have been possible, he couldn't have done it. John Sheridan, the Earth Force officer, laughed at his sentimentality, but John Sheridan, the diplomat, knew he had made the right decision. He had come a long way since the destruction of the *Black Star,* since Z'Ha'Dum, since Mars. He thought he might learn to like the man he was becoming.

   

   Chapter Fourteen

   Impossible

   

   On board the freighter *Wallabee,* Herb and Hank struggled to get Minbari Ambassador Delenn into the largest lifepod. Helping a conscious, cooperative woman would have been much easier than trying to manhandle this slack, helpless version into the pod's cushioned restraints. Unfortunately--or fortunately, considering the amount of pain she had been in--Delenn had not regained consciousness. Knowing she might be in no condition to deliver, verbally, the rebels' message when the rescue team from Babylon Five reached her, Hank had the computer print out a set of their demands to enclose in the pod with her.

   "Do you really think she'll be all right like that?" Herb asked. They had wrapped her in the same shiny, heat-conserving blanket that had been hers ever since she had come aboard, and Hank had laid her broken wrist carefully on the top of her chest. With the ice pack still attached to it, it should come to the immediate attention of her rescuers. He placed the printed copy of the miners' demands by her feet.

   "She'll be okay." Hank assured the pilot. "She'd a been better if Woody had just left her alone, but Woody always was a jerk."

   Herb nodded his head in agreement.

   Hank Cutler bent down. Leaning over the side of the lifepod, he checked the read-outs. It had oxygen enough for almost a week. She shouldn't need more than a day's worth. The solar batteries were operational and everything else seemed to be fully charged and ready for use. He patted her gently.

   *Poor little princess,* he thought looking at her bonecrest tiara. *May your prince charming wake you with a kiss?*

   He wasn't usually what he considered a romantic, and he would have felt silly saying it out loud, but he knew she deserved better than what had happened to her here. She was a lady and an intelligent, canny negotiator. Whatever might come from the message she carried, he wished her well.

   Hank triggered the sealing mechanism and watched to make sure that it activated properly. When the emergency beacon began to glow and sound its repetitive tones, he pushed the button launching the lifepod into the darkness of space outside.

   The old freighter was close to the jumpgate they had chosen earlier, and he'd already sent a message telling her people on Babylon Five that they could find her there--in a lifepod. He had been very specific about the signal they should look for.

   No sooner had the lifepod bearing Delenn cleared the ship than it ceased functioning. Hank couldn't believe his eyes or ears. "What the hell?" he yelped.

   "What's wrong?" Herb yelled back from his seat up front in the control center.

   "Everything! It's gone! The damned thing's gone. It just disappeared, like it never existed." Flabbergasted the man sat down on the passageway floor.

   "What, in God's name, have I done?" Hank wondered.

   "Was Woody down here?" he asked suspiciously.

   "Well, of course, he was down there," the pilot responded coming down the ladder from the control room. "He was chief engineer on this tub for years. He was all over tinkering with stuff."

   Light began to dawn in Herb's eyes. "And, I'll just bet he didn't plan for anybody to find her after he'd played his little games with her."

   "Send an emergency call, now! We need help." He pushed Herb back up the ladder towards the comm unit and began surveying the surrounding area with all the sensors the old tub possessed.

   "Come on, baby. Come to papa." The old gamblers' chant Hank began muttering was almost a prayer.

    ----------

   White Star Twelve had been conducting shadow and surveillance activities on the *Wallabee* since she had lifted precipitously from the planet Havellin Three.

   They hadn't been sure why they were following this particular ship or what their surveillance was supposed to find, but they'd done both anyway. White Star crews were very good at following orders. Only after they were deep in space did they receive communications from Mr. Garibaldi suggesting that Ambassador Delenn, the Entil'zha might be on the ship they were pursuing. To say the crew of the White Star redoubled their efforts would we a gross understatement. They followed the old freighter *closer than her shadow.* The captain of the White Star, a Minbari Ranger, wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but he made a effort to be sure nothing that which happened on, near, or even in general proximity to the ship was missed.

   The spacing of a body through the cargo bay airlock had very nearly put the White Star's crew into shock. They had sent a *snooper* to check it out. Fearing the worse, knowing that Delenn's personal codes had been used to launch this ship, they all breathed a sigh of relief when all the *snooper* found a big, ugly male who had obviously died of a P.P.G. burn to the chest.

   White Star Twelve hung back, waiting to see what else was going to be forthcoming from this antiquated ship. They heard and recorded the message sent to Babylon Five: the message told exactly when, where, and how Ambassador Delenn could be recovered. It looked like this was going to be almost too easy. Then the lifepod had launched and *disappeared.*

   Actually, *disappeared* was a misnomer. It was still out there, somewhere. It just had shut itself off electronically. It was no longer displaying a signal light or homing beacon. It was simply another piece of darkness among the stars.

   The Rangers were instantly aware that the pod had stopped broadcasting. Immediately trajectories were calculated and probabilities were assigned to those divergent paths. Even before the official distress call from the *Wallabee* reached them, White Star Twelve was already in pursuit of the missing the lifepod and its precious cargo.

   "Scanning, scanning," the Ranger at the comm called out time and distances as they sought, not quite but almost, blindly among the stars for their lost leader.

    ----------

   John Sheridan straightened his shoulders and pulled down on the bottom of his dinner jacket. It felt strange to be clean and to be dressed in clothing of his own, the clothing he had worn to a dinner in his honor an impossibly long time ago.

   He stepped down wincing. He was standing in the plaza outside Government House. He had come almost full circle back to the place from which he had been abducted. He didn't know how many days he'd been gone. He *did* know that his negotiated release might just be a *first* for any government in the twenty-third century, let alone his fledgling Alliance.

   No ransom had been paid. No demands had been met. Instead, two opposing parties--using the resources of his people, the Interstellar Alliance--had reached mutually acceptable terms and ended their hostilities amicably. He expected Delenn would be thrilled. The Alliance had lived up to its promise.

   The large ore-lifter, which had deposited him so carefully in the middle of the plaza, took off with a roar of engines. He turned and waved after it with one hand. The other hand was busy supporting him with the aid of a heavy wooden cane. He hadn't thought he'd needed the cane, until he'd tried to walk down the passageway to board the ore- lifter. Before he had gone two dozen steps, he had gratefully accepted its assistance.

   Slowly President Sheridan began to walk toward Government House. If he kept up a certain rhythm it didn't go too badly. His knees were still very stiff. The large crowd, which had drawn back when the ore- lifter landed, came forward threatening to engulf him. He made it to the base of the steps under his own power, but looked at that long flight of carved stone and just shook his head.

   Fortunately, both Michael and Beth were among those awaiting his arrival. Between them they lifted him and propelled him up the multitude of steps. At the top, they promptly placed him back on his feet and grinned at him.

   "God, is it good to see you!" Michael gripped his friend's shoulder tightly.

   "Where's Delenn?" John asked. Those were literally the first words out of his mouth. He had expected her to be released, as he had been, as soon as word of the successful negotiations reached the miners that had held her. "I thought she'd be here waiting for me."

   Michael didn't want to do this on the steps of Government House. Actually, he didn't want to do it anywhere. Between them he and Beth hurried John into the building.

   Looking long and hard at Beth Lochley, John admitted, "You were right. I'm sorry I didn't listen." The currently-relieved-of-command captain of Babylon Five was pointedly not looking back at him as they moved into the Havellin Mining Corporation's multi-purpose conference room. It had been transformed, yet again. Now, it looked like a search-and-rescue center, for the very good reason that that was exactly what it was.

   "John." G'Kar gave him an enormous hug, and motioned for him to join Londo at the communications console.

   "Sit. Sit," Londo said. Then he looked up and realized just who it was. "John, I am so sorry. We are trying everything we know how." "Sorry about what?" John looked curiously at the screen, which seemed to show a sector of space near a small jumpgate. "Where's Delenn?"

   Michael decided it was his job. "Sit down, John. A lot has happened."

   John sat. He felt tired and old, and he knew--instinctively-- that he didn't want to hear what Michael was going to say to him. Beth sat down nearby and folded her hands studiously in her lap. Right now, she hated the fact that she had been right.

   "Delenn's missing, John."

   "Missing?" John stared at him.

   "We know she was taken off-planet. We know where the ship that took her is now. It was part of a scheme on the part of some of the rebelling miners to try to get their message, their demands, to a larger audience."

   John waited and Michael began to perspire. "Their plan was to set Delenn adrift in a lifepod with a complete set of their demands. Then they figured they'd send a message to Babylon Five and tell us where to come and pick her up. She had agreed to make their demands known, to be their spokesperson, sort of."

   "It should have been a snap given the beacon and lights on a lifepod." Michael took a deep breath. "But somebody sabotaged the lifepod. As soon as it was launched it disappeared electronically. As far as we know, all that cut off was the beacon and emergency lights, but we can't be sure."

   John's face became a mask of pain. He closed his eyes and saw her face--smiling, worried, excited, pensive--always the light in his world. He wanted to hit someone, break something. He did nothing, except tighten his grip on the top of the wooden cane until his knuckles were white. Beth Lochley rested a hand on his shoulder. She made a decision and hugged him. She couldn't stay mad at him, not when he was in so very much pain.

   "We had a White Star there, John, shadowing the ship she was on."

   Michael knew what he was going to say wouldn't help, but he figured John deserved to know.

   "The man who sabotaged the lifepod is dead. It looks like he'd planned from the very beginning to hurt her and then leave her to die in the pod. Another man stopped him. Shot and killed him, and spaced his body."

   "A big man, known as *Woody?*" John asked.

   Michael nodded.

   "How, the hell, did you know?" he asked.

   "I saw it coming, and I couldn't do anything about it." John replied. His voice was strained in a way Michael had never heard before. Whoever this Woody had been, he had gotten to his friend.

   John found himself trembling, remembering being forced to watch the man run his hands over her. Michael had said he meant to hurt her. John knew the truth. He'd *always* intended to rape her.

   "You're sure, he's dead?"

   "Positive. The White Star got a *snooper* onto the body as soon as it was spaced. They were just grateful that it wasn't Delenn. It should be aboard their ship. Do you want to see it to be sure?"

   "No, I'll take your word for it." He shifted inside clothes that felt over-size, even though he knew they were his. It seemed awfully warm in the conference room.

   "What do we do now?" John asked.

   "We search," Londo assured him. "We will not give up."

   "It is," G'Kar admitted, "a little like sifting the ocean for a single minnow."

   "What do you need?" Whatever they needed, if it was within his power to deliver, then they'd have it. He'd beg, borrow, steal, or sell his soul, if necessary.

   "We need a way to find a particular piece of inert metal in a sector of space the size of this planet and getting larger by the minute."

   "Have you asked the miners for help?" John asked. "They're the ones who'd have the equipment to locate specific metal ores. They have experience doing just that. Why not send the prospecting ships out there and any others we can jury-rig to carry the equipment? This can't be *impossible!*"

   No one else had said the word, but John had known. It had seemed impossible; as more and more time had slipped away, chances of recovering Delenn had grown smaller and smaller. Now--maybe, just maybe--they could do it.

   Within minutes members of the miners' guild had been contacted. They came partly from shame and partly from duty. It was their fault; at least some of their faults, that John's wife had been placed in jeopardy. They were, also, the best ones to do the job. They had the equipment and they knew how to use it.

   Soon the miners were pouring over the data retrieved so far by the *Wallabee* and White Star Twelve. They dug each other in the ribs over the stupidity of these *non-experts* in the field and planned search-patterns and backup systems that would have done a military campaign proud.

   Within the hour, over a hundred prospecting ships had lifted from Havellin Three's spaceport and more were waiting for clearance to join them. Other ships prospecting in the asteroid belt were informed of the situation. Immediately they abandoned their work and voluntarily joined in the search.

   They might not be able to find her, but no one was going to say they hadn't tried.

   

   Chapter Fifteen

   The Search

   

   "Lifepods are usually made of an alloy of metals," Michael informed John. He had been doing his homework. A collection of ships registry, metallurgy, and chemical composition files were spread across the mahogany table. "The pods on the *Wallabee* should contain very small amounts of quantium 40. Given the scarcity of that mineral, we should be able to find her pretty darned quick."

   "Quantium 40?" the captain of White Star Twelve, which was in tactical command of the armada searching for Delenn, seemed singularly unimpressed when they contacted him. "Trace amounts? You cannot be serious." If he had had eyebrows, he would have raised them. "We are searching in an area that is in very close proximity to a jumpgate. The jumpgate itself is made from a quantium 40 alloy and half the rocks floating around near it contain at least trace amounts. You will need to find another metal that those assisting us can try to lock onto."

   "Wait one." Michael turned off the audio link. He looked the long mahogany table in the conference room. Now it was covered with printouts and files. He thought of all the files he had read, all the data he had compiled, and all the hours he had wasted. He sighed.

   John reached out his hand and rested it on Michael's shoulder. "If at first you don't succeed."

   "Say *to hell with it* and get drunk." Michael looked at his friend, "Not funny, I know." He reopened the audio link to White Star Twelve.

   "How about zinc, copper, or titanium? There are traces of all three of those elements in that style lifepod, too." If those failed, Michael didn't know what they'd try next. All the rest of the component elements were so common they could be found everywhere. He again disconnected the link.

   John and Michael looked at each other. John sighed. "Too bad you couldn't set the scanners to locate a bonecrest or emerald eyes."

   Michael stopped himself in mid-thought. A grin spread across his face and he immediately reestablished the audio link with the searchers.

   "Captain," Michael practically shouted at the man, "I've got it! Have the miners set their scanners for calcium. It's not a metal, I know, but their scanners should be able to detect it. They're used to scanning all the way through asteroid searching for metals. Well, inside that lifepod is one *beautiful lady,* with equally beautiful bones and a bonecrest made of almost pure calcium."

   "I think that will be possible," the captain replied back, sounding happier than he had since the search began, since the lifepod had disappeared practically under his nose. "I do believe that will do it. Thank you, Mr. Garibaldi."

   "You're welcome. Now, go make it work."

    ----------

   Aboard a tiny, one-man ore-finder a prospector named Jeremy Cobb, one of those who had represented the miners' guild at the negotiations in Havellin City, asked for confirmation on the *metal* he was looking for.

   "It ain't precisely a metal, but your computer should take the molecular signature. Do you need me to send it to you again?"

   "No, just checking." Jeremy shrugged. "I wasn't sure I hadn't made a mistake downloading the information."

   Shifting his search function to manual from automatic, he carefully entered the electron count, proton count, neutron count, and molecular weight. The computer hiccuped just once to ask if that was *really* what he wanted to search for. He replied, in no uncertain terms, that it was.

   As soon as the computer registered as ready, Jeremy hit *run.* Almost before he lifted his hand from the keyboard, the display was lighting up. Most of the read-outs were other miners in other ships.

   "Aw, hell," he thought. "What a mess!" But one, just off to his left about thirty degrees and down five degrees, was where no other ship was supposed to be.

   "I've got her," he whooped into the open comm channel. "I've got her! And she alive."

   "How the hell do you know that?" a number of voices inquired over the comm.

   "'Cause I can see her moving, and dead folks don't move much." Jeremy's glee was contagious.

   Within moments the White Star, being one of the few ships large enough to take the lifepod aboard still sealed, was on its way to make the pickup. Her captain sent a guardedly optimistic message to Havellin Three.

   The miners weren't so guarded in their optimism.

    ----------

   John Sheridan rose stiffly and stretched. Using the cane one of his captors had given him, he took a few steps away from the machinery that had claimed his attention for the last several hours. He would have liked to pace, but he didn't. He didn't think he could. It hurt too much.

   Elizabeth Lochley slipped smoothly into the seat he had just vacated. She would monitor the channels for him while he gave his eyes a short break. He rubbed them carefully. Bright light still bothered them, but he was reluctant to give up his seat at the comm unit. Whatever the news, he wanted to be the first to know.

   He looked around the room for a clock. If they can spend all this money on parquet floors and brass hinges, you'd think they could afford a clock. He didn't know what time it was for sure. It had been early evening when he had stepped off the transport in the middle of the plaza. Through the long night ships had launched, searchers had worked, and no one had slept. Now it was daylight again outside the windows that overlooked the plaza.

   John knew that he had been staring at the comm screen for way too long. He had been trying through force of will to make Mr. Garibaldi's scheme work. He glanced out the window of Government House. The street and plaza were full of people, a great many people. A crowd, boisterous and buoyant, was gathering just outside Government House. Opening the window and leaning out he called to the closest person, "What's going on?"

   "She's alive. They've found her!" Voices yelled the good news up to him from the plaza, as Lochley received the official notification on the comm link in the conference room behind him.

   "She alive!" John sat down in one of the plush chairs.

   He hadn't known he was going to cry, and he certainly hadn't planned on it. It's doubtful he was even aware that he was doing it until a small hand gently brushed his cheek and an equally small voice asked, "Why are you crying?"

   He smiled at the auburn-haired child.

   "I'm crying happy tears, Tatia. Someone I love very much is all right. I was...worried, very worried about her."

   "Oh, I know...." The child seemed to bubble over with laughter. "You mean Delenn, the pretty lady with the crown. Mommy and I were coming to tell you, Daddy found her."

   It seemed impossible, but apparently it was so. John had never met Tatia's father, but if he was the one who had found his wife, then he owed Tatia's family more than he could ever hope to repay.

   "Thank you," John said. Rising from the depths of the chair he faced the little girl's mother and signed it as well.

   "You, your family, have given me a gift, wonderful gifts. I do not know how I can ever repay you. Governor Dodson was right when he said that the miners here were good people. You are good people and smart people."

   Little Tatia waited until he was finished, then tugged at her mother's sleeve to get her attention and quickly signed the gist of what he had said.

   Her mother smiled and blushed.

   Taking the child's hand, she led her quickly from the room. Behind her she left a man who was no longer crying and whose smile seemed capable of lighting half the galaxy.

    ----------

   The hangar bay of White Star Twelve was full to capacity and beyond. In the center of it, rested the lifepod they had retrieved following the guidance of one of the asteroid prospectors. Even with the help of Jeremy Cobb and the miners' sophisticated scanning equipment, they hadn't been able to see it until they had it almost in their grasp. Now landing bay techs worked to open the lifepod.

   Hank and Herb had asked to be there, and the captain of the White Star had given his permission. The two of them stationed themselves near the hangar doors. Hank was afraid, very afraid, of what they would find when the lifepod was opened, but he needed to be here. He figured he owed her that much at least. Herb was his moral support.

   Medical staff and emergency rescue personnel waited near the back of the bay, out of the way. They couldn't do their jobs until Delenn was extricated from the pod.

   Finally, all of the bolts were loosened. A team of six Rangers moved forward to remove the lid. They reminded Hank of pallbearers at a funeral.

   "Please, be all right," he prayed.

   Lifting the heavy lid only a little, the Rangers slid it off to the side. It landed with a deep, metal thump that set the deck plate beneath all of their feet vibrating.

   Delenn lay inside the now-open lifepod. She was sheathed in a metallic emergency blanket, rather like some formal evening gown. Her wrist, which they had been warned in advance by Mr. Cutler and his pilot had been damaged in their freeing her from the *paingivers,* was wrapped in a now-warm coldpack. It had swollen considerably.

   The Rangers, who had surrounded the lifepod, drew back making room for the medical personnel. Despite the miner's assurances that he had seen her move inside the tiny self-contained ship, they, too, were afraid of what they would find.

   She was breathing. That much they could tell immediately.

   "She's alive," the White Star's chief medical officer made it official.

   Carefully, he scanned her. She would need to spend some time in med lab either on the planet or back at Babylon Five and there were some *unusual* readings, but the worst of their fears were proven officially unfounded. The sabotage, which had shut off the lifepod's beacon and emergency lights, had *not* disabled its life support system.

   Hank breathed a huge sigh of relief. His had been the hand that had launched the lifepod. If she had been dead, he could have been considered guilty of murder, even though he hadn't known the pod was sabotaged, even though he had never meant her any harm. He might have been acquitted of such charges, but he could *never* have forgiven himself.

   Delenn opened her eyes into the bright glow of the hangar-bay lights. She smiled dreamily up at the assembled Rangers and miners.

   "I made it." She didn't sound as if she quite believed it herself. She had been frightened when she had first regained consciousness in the sealed lifepod, but she had quickly realized where she was. After three days shut away in that lifepod, she had seen more darkness than she ever wanted to see again. She knew she had some bumps and bruises. She knew, believed that her wrist was broken, but she still couldn't quite believe that she was indeed alive. Her prayers had been answered.

   As the Rangers lifted her gently onto a gurney that would take her to med lab, she tried to tell them about the miners' demands, as she had promised she would do. She tried to tell them about who was holding John and where. She tried to tell them many things. No one seemed to listen to her.

   Finally the captain of the White Star stopped issuing orders, turned and actually seemed to be paying attention to her. He let her talk. After about five minutes he stopped her.

   "Entil'zha, there are some things you have to try to understand. Things have been happening very quickly, especially during the last three days. President Sheridan is all right. He's been freed. The negotiation team did what it came to do. It made peace. The rebellion is over." He smiled down at her proudly. "Although, I do have to tell you that both the miners and mine owners are very impressed that *you* were willing to take this chance--waiting for rescue in a lifepod--to let the truth be known.".

   Delenn could hardly believe it. The rebellion was over and a settlement negotiated without her help.

   "You are sure John is all right? They had hurt him so badly."

   She felt foolish asking for reassurance, but her first concern then and always was for John.

   "Yes, Delenn. The President is fine." Miners on the ship assured her, too, that her husband was alive and well. They had seen him at the government plaza immediately after his release. He had *run across the grass and flown up the steps.* Delenn smiled at them. This had to be exaggeration. *Running, perhaps,* she thought. *Flying, never.*

   "Would you like to send him a message?" the captain queried. "It can be arranged." He did not understand the expression on her face, but he was willing to do whatever was necessary to make her more secure.

   "Yes," she said, "Thank you. Tell him *we* are fine." The male Minbari tilted his head slightly, but did not question the *we.*

   Delenn laid her head back against the clean sheet. It felt so good to be able to move again, to not have to worry about how much air she had left. Her wrist throbbed. It had been doing that for a long time.

   She remembered what had happened. She knew she had been trapped, fastened by that wrist to the floor of a cargo bay. She had heard Hank screaming at Woody to leave her alone. She remembered her wrists burning so badly that she had wished her hands would fall off, just to stop the pain. She remembered being cold, deathly cold.

   Medical personnel moved between her and the rest of the world. She knew she should tell them about the baby. She knew it was important that nothing they did for her should harm her child, but she was just too tired to talk any more. Fortunately the Minbari physician had already ascertained what he needed to know from the *unusual * readings he gotten earlier. He gave her a reassuring smile and very proper Minbari bow.

   "Everything will be taken care of, " he assured her. She believed him. Someone had started an intravenous drip. She had felt the pinch and prick in the back of her hand. She could see the IV bag hanging over her head, swaying.

   Delenn followed the swaying motion with her eyes. She followed it back into unconsciousness as the drug the chief medical officer had administered took effect. They were going to have to re-break her wrist to set it. This would be the best way.

   She never saw the miners rejoicing or the look of pain that crossed Hank's face as the med team raced her to surgery. She had been hurt. He knew it was his fault.

    ----------

   Delenn was asleep. She had been since White Star Twelve had returned her to Havellin Three. Her one wrist was in a cast and the other was bandaged--mostly to protect the burns there from infection. The doctors had reassured her husband.

   She had numerous bruises and small contusions all over her body. John Sheridan didn't care. She was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

   Michael and G'Kar shook their heads in wonder. Until they had gotten Delenn back safely, none of them had been unable to get John near a hospital even to have his own wounds tended. Now, it was impossible to keep him away.

   If he wasn't with Delenn, he was checking on Lieutenant Dixon who was slowly recovering from the massive P.P.G. burn she had received. If he wasn't checking on the lieutenant, he was pestering audiologists about a young woman from the mining community he wanted them to look at. If he wasn't pestering them, he was trying to convince the hospital staff of the need for a medical clinics and dispensaries or, at least, first aid stations, located away from the capitol city.

   No matter who he was visiting, pestering, or cajoling, he was never far from Delenn's side. Their marriage was a love match, and that much was evident to the blindest observer.

   The first time Delenn awoke, he was holding her hand, whispering sweet words--plans for the future, dreams for someday. He'd been startled to realize she was really awake.

   "Morning, my love," he had asked. "Did you sleep well?" She remembered nodding that she had and promptly falling asleep again.

   On the third day she had awakened and stayed awake. John was thrilled. He had helped her sit up in bed, fed her some gelatinous mass for lunch, and combed her long brown hair for her.

   "A broken wrist is not going to be too much of a difficulty," she had informed him, teasingly, "as long as I have a lady's maid as efficient as you are."

   As the days passed, they had asked each other a million questions, sharing their stories. Delenn had joined in John's amazement when he told her the story of how Jeremy Cobb and his wife, each in their own way, had saved the two of them. They had agreed that something special needed to be done to help them and their daughter.

   John's whole body had shaken with laughter when she'd told him of the reports of his running across the plaza and flying up the steps. He told her that he remembered limping across that grass and being carried up those steps. If this was how legends started, with rumors like these, he wanted no part of it.

   He decided that what he wanted most was peace and quiet, time for them both to recuperate. So, did she.

   

   Chapter Sixteen

   Faith Manages

   

   "To Lieutenant Kathryn Dixon for courage in the face of the enemy, the Interstellar Alliance's Medal of Valor and Presidential Medallion."

   Katie Dixon returned Captain Lochley's salute balancing carefully on one crutch. A young aide held the other one for her. Delenn had pinned the Medal of Valor to her tunic and the President, himself, had presented her with the Medallion, slipping its ribbon over her head. Katie was in awe. She hadn't expected all this.

   "To Captain Timothy Collins for courage in the face of the enemy, the Interstellar Alliance's Medal of Valor, posthumously."

   "To Lieutenant William Hopkins for courage in the face of the enemy, the Interstellar Alliance's Medal of Valor, posthumously."

   "To Lieutenant Sa'Kan of the House of Sarl for courage in the face of the enemy, the Interstellar Alliance's Medal of Valor, posthumously."

   "To Corporal Margaret Lewis for courage in the face of the enemy, the Interstellar Alliance's Medal of Valor, posthumously."

   "To Corporal Yelsrap for courage in the face of the enemy, the Interstellar Alliance's Medal of Valor, posthumously."

   President John Sheridan stood solemnly as the Role of Honor was read. Delenn, beside him, compressed her lips into a firm line. Just one tear escaped and left its track down her cheek. They had decided that the observation dome on Babylon Five was the most fitting place for this ceremony. A Rangers place was after all out among the stars.

   A few of the honored Rangers had had family close enough to be able to attend. John had made it a point to speak to each member of each family individually. It wasn't required, but it was something he felt he had to do.

   Of the six young Rangers who had gone to Havellin Three with them, five were dead and one would be a long time recovering. John had seen war before. As a commanding officer, he'd sent people on missions from which they hadn't returned, but he had never had anyone die before specifically because they were protecting or trying to protect him.

   *Too young,* John thought. *They were too young to die like that, for nothing.*

   "It was not your fault," Delenn reassured him, placing her hand on his arm. Delenn could not read his mind, but she had become very good a reading his body language.

   He looked down at the cast on her wrist. She had been hurt, could have been hurt worse. Both of them could have been killed. He laid his hand over hers. It might not have been his fault, but it had been his responsibility.

   Returning the salute of the flag bearers, John turned and led his wife away.

    ----------

   A small female tornado met them before they were halfway to their quarters.

   Her name was, she quickly explained to Delenn, Tatia Cobb and there was a wonderful surprise waiting for them.

   John was unsure about his ability to deal with surprises right now, but Tatia's glee was infectious. He smiled as her small, red head bobbed before them down the corridor of the green section.

   "What's the surprise?" John asked her teasingly when she finally came to a stop outside their quarters.

   "I'm not supposed to tell. If I do, it won't be a surprise anymore."

   She bit her bottom lip, as he had often seen Delenn do when frustrated or unsure. He wondered if the child had acquired the habit from her somehow. "Not likely," he decided.

   "May we go in now?" Delenn inquired.

   "Of course," Tatia looked expectantly. "You live here."

   The door opened. The room was literally filled with smiling faces. Many of those present were from Havellin Three. Most of them were talking simultaneously, and in the middle of it all were Tatia's parents.

   Jeremy Cobb stood up and looked uncomfortable. The group quieted. "I hope you don't mind," he said, "Mr. Garibaldi helped us plan this. We wanted the two of you to share in our happiness. We're celebrating."

   "Your victory over the mining corporation?" John asked.

   "No," Tatia's mother said softly. "My recovery. I can hear. Thanks to the people you sent I am now able to hear my daughter laugh and my husband say my name. I have no words except...." She both signed and said, "Thank you."

   John was overwhelmed. He had received reports that they had operated on the young woman's ears, attempting to reconnect the small bones in the middle ear whose separation they believed kept her from hearing. Somewhere in a report he had read that the operation had been successful, but he had never expected all this.

   "That is wonderful," Delenn exclaimed.

   "Yeah! *Great!*" added Michael Garibaldi entering with Captain Lochley and several other member of the station crew. "Now you can listen to my jokes."

   Suzanne Cobb ignored him. She looked in wonder at the First Lady of the Alliance.

   "Your voice," she said simply, "is as beautiful as you are."

   Delenn smiled and blushed.

   "I'm going to get to go to school," Tatia added. "And so are all the other children. They're not sure they're going to like it, but I am going to love it." She ran to John and threw her small arms around his leg. Looking up, she pleaded, "Will you be my teacher?"

   "Tatia, I'm not qualified to be your teacher, but if you ever have any questions you need answered, you just let me know." He smiled down at her. It took so little to buy happiness.

   "You'll be sorry you made that offer, Mr. President." Beth Lochley laughed. "You have no idea how many questions six-year olds can ask."

   Jeremy and his wife, and all their friends who had come with them to help celebrate laughed too. Many of them had children of their own. John Sheridan would learn. He'd need the resources of the Alliance and the Rangers to answer all the questions that tiny redhead would ask in the next few years.

   Hank Cutler had been waiting in the background. Now he approached Delenn tentatively. He was unsure how welcome he was going to be, how much she did or did not remember.

   "Hello!" she said, smiling at him. "I understand I owe you a great deal."

   "We both do." John was at her side extending his hand to Hank's amazement. "Thank you."

   "Uh... You're welcome."

   The two men shook hands sincerely, and Hank turned back to Delenn. "I brought something for you. I made it just for you, so you'll never be lost again."

   Delenn stared at the small box he pushed into her hands. She had learned that such boxes were meant to be opened. She carefully lifted the top and exclaimed with delight. Inside was a small pendant and chain. The pendant was engraved with the Babylon Five emblem. Hank lifted it and showed her a tiny switch on its bottom edge.

   "It's a beacon," he said proudly. "Your very own personal, shining light." He smiled at her delight in his gift.

   "Thank you," she said.

   She carefully lifted her hair, allowing John to clasp the thin gold chain around her throat.

   "Now, I have two *shining beacons,*" she thought. She carefully examined the delicate workmanship and realized, turning the pendant over, that the Interstellar Alliance insignia was engraved on its back as well.

   The miners from Havellin Three were in awe of the Interstellar Alliance and lavish in their praise of it. It had been able to do so much, so quickly. They told about the health clinics, about huge amounts of food that had arrived practically overnight, and, with awe, about how the Rangers had ended the bitter warfare that had been consuming their planet for years and years.

   "...For so long?" Delenn asked incredulously.

   "Oh, yes, ...since before my Tatia was born," her mother said, cuddling the child beside her. "Seven years, eight years. Maybe, more."

   "So many people died. It was so hopeless." One of the visiting miners joined their conversation.

   "It was," Jeremy agreed. "Miner fought miner for less reason than could be believed. Men, and women, died for less food than is on this plate." He gestured to a small tray of meat and cheese sitting on the counter.

   "I know, you lost people on our planet, and I'm sorry it happened. We all are. The bitter truth is, they were no more than would have died in a week in any case--between the riots, in-fighting, and the company's forced labor groups."

   Suzanne Cobb nodded. What her husband was saying was nothing more than the truth, but she hadn't believed he would have the courage to say it so bluntly or to these people. She was proud of him.

   "It was a terrible price to pay. The deaths of those young Rangers, your captivity, those are things we are all ashamed of."

   Around the room, eyes dropped. John knew instinctively that there were people there who had taken part in their abduction and captivity. He drew a deep breath and, using all of his will power, pushed his hostility aside. He listened as Jeremy continued.

   "We have established, with some help from your people, places for the mentally ill and incompetent. Those like Woody and Barney will not be allowed to hurt others any longer." He gestured to both Delenn and John. "I only hope you can forgiven us, and I hope that it has taught us *all* something."

   Jeremy Cobb looked around at all those who had come with them-- men and women, some of whom had gone hooded and masked, some of whom had worn prospectors' hammers as weapons in their belts. He knew them, knew them well.

   "We have learned." Jeremy put his arm around his wife. He looked at John and Delenn. His face showed pain and pride. Gradually he let a smile replace the grim determination on his face. "We've learned to make our planet a better place for our children and for our children's children."

   "We've proven that disputes can be settled peacefully, if the people involved really want to settle them. We did some things wrong. I'll acknowledge that, but our greatest gains--the most important ones- -were made without resort to violence."

   John looked at the young miner and knew that he was looking at a man, who would someday God willing, be a voice of authority and common sense on Havellin Three.

   "He's learned the most important lessons," John thought. "Violence does not have to beget violence, and the most important thing we can do is make our *world* a better place for those who follow us."

   John raised his glass in a toast, "To peace. To the future. To our children."

   "To peace." Jeremy, Suzanne, and all those assembled responded even little Tatia. Michael and Beth raised their glasses of fruit juice. They were both technically still on duty.

   "To the future." John looked again at Jeremy and Suzanne. They would build a good future for their world.

   "To our children." John beamed. Delenn had the grace to blush, and Michael chuckled into his half-full glass of grapefruit juice. Sheridan was going to have *a lot* to learn about kids.

   John stood leaning ever so slightly against Delenn. He was grateful for friends old and new. He remembered the *press conference,* and Beth Lochley asking him the question about regulation *four twenty-one.* At the time he had taken it as an indication that he had friends that didn't want to see him hurt. Only later had he and Michael had a conversation that left John stunned. He'd known, of course, that *four-two-one* included permission to take your own life in desperate situations. It was supposed to be a way to keep them from using you, when you could no longer prevent it.

   John shook his head at the anguish asking that *question* had caused both Michael and Beth. Somehow, he'd never seen it as applying to him. Somehow, he'd always believed, there would be another way.

   Maybe that was the link he sensed--the common ground he and Delenn shared with Jeremy and Suzanne. They didn't give up. They believed in the future--in possibilities, in their ability to find a better, different way.

   Delenn hugged John as if sensing his thoughts. Her fingers toyed with the pendant Mr. Cutler had given her.

   "If your planet ever needs another source of revenue," she said seriously, "you might wish to consider establishing *search-and-rescue* teams that could be part of the Alliance or operate independently as you wish."

   John looked down at Delenn and smiled. Leave it to her to find the silver lining in what had been a horrendous situation.

   "Your people, all of you were incredible," John added. "I've never seen any group mobilize so quickly or adapt so readily. You saved her life." He hugged Delenn carefully avoiding the cast on her wrist.

   *...And that was something the Rangers, the White Stars, and the military with all of its regulations could not do,* John admitted to himself. Change always comes hard and hardest to those who think their way is the only way. He knew he had been one of them.

   John thought of General Lefcourt and snorted. The general wouldn't like the idea of change either. That they might no longer need regulations like *four-two-one,* that they might have found a better way to do things, would seem heresy to his old mentor.

   *Tough!* he thought. *As long as it works.* They were, God willing, coming to a point beyond which, perhaps, the universe would not require pain for growth.

   Delenn clung to John's arm. It had been a very long day and, wonderful as this party was, she was still exhausted.

   "You were right," John whispered to her. "It wasn't my fault. There were so many things we didn't know."

   "There will always be things that we do not know," she replied softly.

   John squeezed her gently. "But faith always works?" he teased her.

   She smiled up into his eyes. "To look at him today," she thought, "one would never imagine all that he had been through, all that had come to pass to bring him, both of them, to this point."

   "Faith manages," she replied.

   [END]

 

*****

 

 

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