WONDROUS IS OUR GREAT BLUE SHIP (VI)
By Meg Torske
I don't know the name of John's mother. I couldn't even find it in the Lurker's Guide, so I just called her Nancy. Maybe she has another name, or maybe it's never been mentioned at all, but I needed a name for my story, so I chose the first one which came to my mind. My sister's in a Nancy Drew period, maybe that's why? Still only some season four spoilers, depending of what you make of it. Since this story is becoming increasingly alternate as storylines go, I don't really think you'll find any big spoilers in here. NO season five spoilers!
". . . we give you to the stars. For you were born of the stars, and that is where we will eventually meet again - in a place where no shadows fall." Ivanova's face was stern, her voice was soft, yet in official mode - but she didn't reveal her feelings until she said; "Sleep in light, little one." One single tear found its way down her cheek as she said her final words, and she gave the computer orders to start the space funeral program. The heartbreakingly small casket was shot out of Babylon 5, sent towards the closest star. Little Hope Delenn Sheridan, who never got to get more than just a taste of life until it was all over, wouldn't get a grave on Earth for her parents to visit when their lives felt as if they had stopped. Instead she would find her grave in a star, her fragile body becoming one with the universe in a matter of seconds.
John was standing next to Susan, almost paralyzed. He had asked his second in command do perform the ceremony, even though it was rightfully his responsibility as the station's Commander. But Ivanova understood. It didn't take much imagination to figure out that Sheridan would never manage to speak in his own daughter's funeral, he would never be able to endure the emotional stress. He had been through so much already, and the man who was standing next to her, seemed to have become ten years older in only four days. He was a broken man, his grief threatening to tear him apart.
Delenn wasn't much better.
She wasn't attending the ceremony. Since she had awoken, she hadn't spoken to anyone. It was as if she was in a trance, like she tried to protect herself from the pain by pretending it didn't exist. Escaping into another world. No one knew what went on inside her head these days. Delenn didn't reveal her feelings to anyone. When Franklin had asked her if she wanted to attend little Hope's funeral, she had only turned away, staring at the floor, her hands tightening around the white quilt cover. She hadn't uttered a single word, she hadn't cried, screamed, cursed anyone, nothing. In a way, it would've been less frightening and horrible if she had. But she locked up all the grief inside her, like Sheridan also did.
Hope Delenn Sheridan.
Sheridan had come up with the name, when Susan had asked if Delenn and he had decided a name for the little one. She had been afraid to ask him, afraid that she'd trigger his anger. She knew that they hadn't decided a name for the baby before the miscarriage, he would have told her. He hadn't been able to stop talking about the baby they were expecting. And after the miscarriage. . . Delenn and John had hardly talked with each other at all. John had visited her once, but he had more or less escaped from the room after less than five minutes, refusing to tell anyone what had been said or done during his visit. Judging by the look in his eyes, meeting Delenn hadn't helped either of them. Two hours later, Ivanova had found Sheridan dead drunk in a bar in Down Below, and Delenn had started refusing to eat. Dr Franklin was getting desperate, forcing his patient to eat - and she didn't even resist actively. She just sat there, motionless, looking at something that only she could see. The Minbari way of handling grief wasn't very good for a person who was half Minbari, half Human, and in addition to that had just undergone a severe physical trauma. She needed all the physical strength she could get, but when it came to the mental strength she needed to pull herself out of her own private hell, there wasn't anything any of them could do. Maybe John would have been able to help her, but they were both so caught up in their own nets of denial and guilt and fear that they didn't speak to each other. Hardly to anyone, but especially not to each other. So when Ivanova had asked her superior officer what he'd call his baby, because she needed a name for the records and the ceremony, she hadn't expected the answer to come so quickly, so softly. He had simply said "Hope. . . Hope Delenn Sheridan." Nothing more. He had met her eyes, almost for the first time since the assault, and she still wasn't able to tell what she had seen in his eyes at that instant.
One week after Delenn's miscarriage, they were still at square one. Their investigation was going nowhere, they hadn't found the two Narns who had conducted the misdeed, their only clues were a blurry security record and a strange substance which had self-destructed. Sheridan and Delenn weren't talking to each other, and since Delenn had gotten out of Med Lab, Sheridan had moved back into his old quarters. Alone. It seemed like their pain was so all-consuming they weren't able to look at, not to mention talk to, the only other person who truly understood what the other one was going through.
The only good news in the rather desperate situation, was that the station was considerably calmer. Nobody knew exactly *why*, but since the assault on Delenn, the atmosphere on Babylon 5 could be described as nothing less than apathetic. There weren't any more riots in Down Below, and no violent crimes had been reported. Security had nothing to do - except trying to figure out what had actually happened.
Ivanova and Marcus were standing in customs, eagerly awaiting their guest - Mrs. Sheridan, John's mother. John didn't know anything about this, they had more or less smuggled her aboard the station. Well, maybe not smuggled, they had just made sure that Sheridan didn't get hold of the files which were dealing with incoming passengers that particular day. He had been diving into his paperwork lately, so it wasn't that easy, but Susan and Marcus were afraid that if the Captain found out about his mother's arrival, he might refuse to see her, or deny her access to the station. In the mental state he was in these days, he was capable of doing that. He pushed away everyone he loved and cared for - including Delenn, who was doing very much the same herself. They handled their grief in almost the same way, but they still weren't able to comfort each other, hold each other, cry together.
It hurt too much.
Finding Sheridan's mother wasn't very hard. Even if Susan and Marcus hadn't seen her photo in John's personal file, they would've recognized Mrs. Sheridan instantly.
"Mrs. Sheridan," Ivanova said, her voice low. She wasn't quite sure how to handle this visit, when she had asked John's mother to come to Babylon 5 it had been a mere impulse.
"Please, call me Nancy," Sheridan's mother said, her voice warm despite her pale face and the dark rings under her eyes. For weeks she had lived in the dark about where her husband was, and she hadn't seen her son in years. When her husband had finally been returned to her, he had been so ill she had been reluctant to leave him, not even to be able to visit her only son and his wife-to-be. He still wasn't well enough to travel, but Nancy Sheridan had had to go to Babylon 5. Even though she knew David Sheridan had wanted to go, too, wanting to do something - *anything* - for his beloved son, his doctors had refused him to go on a hyper space trip. He might never get out of hyper space again.
The loss of her only grand-child had obviously affected Mrs. Sheridan deeply. She hadn't said so when Susan had talked to her about a week ago, she had been too shocked, her mind hadn't really absorbed the news yet.
Now it had.
"This is Marcus Cole, one of the Rangers living on Babylon 5." They all shook hands, and exchanged quick greetings before Susan continued; "I think we better get out of customs. John might show up, and I kinda. . . haven't told him that you were coming."
They started walking towards Marcus' quarters, which were quite far away from both Sheridan's and Delenn's. "How are they doing?" Nancy asked, and there was no need to ask who "They" were.
"Not so good," Marcus sighed." They have hardly talked to each other since the. . . accident. Sheridan's burying himself in work, and Delenn refuses to talk to anyone. She has more or less locked herself in inside her quarters. Physically she's a lot better, but mentally. . ."
" They are both refusing see psychiatrists, and they won't talk about what has happened to anyone. I know it isn't fair to you," Susan said apologetically, "I mean. . . this is hard for you, too, but I just didn't know what to do."
"Have you found out who did it?" Nancy's face and appearance were so similar to her son's that Susan found it hard to concentrate. For a short second she was horrified to discover that she was actually jealous of John, who had such wonderful parents. His mother wasn't haunted by invisible ghosts only she could see, forced inside her mind by drugs given to her by the Psi Corps. He'd had the stabile, loving childhood she had never had. Pushing those thoughts away, she answered:
"No. We have the security records of the incident, and it appears as if two Narns were responsible."
"It *appears*? If you have video tapes of who did it, how can you *not* be sure that two Narns were behind it?"
Susan just shook her head." This is Babylon 5. And here, you can't be sure that *anything* is what it might seem to be in the beginning."
Zack was in his office, almost falling asleep over his reports. He hadn't had any sleep in over 48 hours, his men had been working around the clock ever since the incident with Delenn, and they still hadn't found anything. They hadn't found the two Narns responsible, and since they'd had restrictions on Narn residents leaving and entering the station ever since they found out about the security records, they *had* to be somewhere on the station. But where? They had even searched through Down Below, a never-ending and dangerous job which had never been done before. But they hadn't found anything. A few thousand illegal residents, some minor criminals and so on, but not the two they were searching for. The illegal residents wouldn't be kicked off the station. Where would they go, anyway? They weren't their main problem right now.
*Who* were the persons that killed Delenn's baby?
He argued with himself whether he should hit the sack or go over the reports once more. He was exhausted, probably too exhausted to fall asleep anyway, so he decided to just stay there, trying to see patterns where he hadn't found any before.
"Computer, double-check the images on security tape number 134487 slash 87 with the records we have of *any* Narn we have in *any* archive. Not just the station files, but also the files on the Narn homeworld as well as on Centauri Prime."
It took the computer a few minutes to process all the data, but - like the other five times he had tried - it didn't come up with anything. Zack knew that not all Narns were in any files on neither Narn nor Centauri Prime. Since the war, many records had been lost or destroyed, and they hadn't been properly replaced with new ones. Many were still hiding all over the galaxy - either because it was convenient for them, or because they were afraid of repercussions if they went back. Not everyone on the Narn Homeworld had opposed the Centauri mastery.
Zack continued going over reports and journals, coming up with nothing - as usual. He was about to go back to his quarters and get about four hours of well-deserved sleep when he tried the last way out he could think of. "Computer, check energy profiles on the station at the time in question." He wasn't really paying attention when the diagram of the station appeared on the screen. He was far too tired, his eyes felt like sandpaper, and he had problems focusing on the screen.
The diagram showed the inner structure of Babylon 5, the station was translucent, so one could see all sectors. The energy used or produced in any part of the station showed up as highlighted areas, ranging from blue to intense red in the enormous main reactors. He didn't see anything in particular. Some colored spots here, some others there. So what. Better to hit the sack, once and for all. As a last shot, he tried something he hadn't tried before, simply because it hadn't seemed relevant. He hadn't seen any reason to do it, but right now he was so tired he didn't think clearly.
"Computer, compare energy profile to average profile."
"Processing - stand by." The monotonous computer voice only helped making him even more tired and sleepy. Finally, the computer was done. "Showing irregularities on energy profile compared to standard energy profile." Some blinking, red lights appeared on the screen. Most of them were very small, and showed only minor differences which could be caused simply if someone by accident short-circuited their hairdryer.
Suddenly, he was wide awake. There was a major irregularity in the ambassadorial sector. At the time when Delenn had been attacked. The intense, red light was bigger than the rest of the lights scattered randomly all over the station. Rising from his chair, he walked towards the screen, his voice was hardly audible when he said: "Computer, how big was the deviation in the ambassadorial sector?"
"1547 percent," the computer answered.
Mrs. Sheridan had stopped in front of her son's door. Everything was so quiet on the station these days, Commander Ivanova had told her, it was almost spooky. She could tell that this silence was one of the things that really worried the stern commander. Her son had talked about his second in command once, how she had "her own personal ghosts to fight", as he had put it, and having met Susan in person, she knew that it was true. She didn't know why Susan kept building these walls, but there had to be a good reason.
She hesitated before she pushed the chime button. When had she ever been reluctant and even afraid to face her son? Not since the first time she had seen him after Anna's death. Then, like now, she didn't know what to tell him, what to do. She had been so glad when John had told her, about a year ago, with a shy light in his eyes, that there was someone on the station who. . . Nancy hadn't known that it was Delenn, though, not until she had seen her on ISN.
She pushed the chime button twice more, but there wasn't any response. She *knew* that he was in his quarters, Commander Ivanova had told her that he was, he just didn't want to open. She tried once more, not wanting to give up. Finally, she heard his answer, his voice tired and slightly annoyed -
"Open, for heaven's sake."
Her son wasn't looking towards the door when she entered the room, he was lost in some paper work.
He looked like hell. That was the only way to describe him. His uniform was in order, and he was shaved and everything, that wasn't the problem. But his face was so drained and pale, his eyes red and dry from lack of sleep, and the expression in them was - almost gone.
"Aren't you even going to greet your mother when she comes to visit you?" Nancy said, meeting her son's gaze when he sent her a shocked glance.
"Mom." John rose from his chair and gave her a swift, impersonal hug. "What are you doing here?"
"I heard what happened to Delenn."
"Who told you?" He had turned his back towards her, seemingly very busy making some tea, in reality just wanting her to go, and leave him alone.
Sheridan swore, and even though Nancy knew he didn't intend her to hear it, she did. "She always sticks her nose in where it doesn't belong," he muttered. The tea can hit the warmer with such force it almost broke, the clinking noise was the only sound breaking the silence in the room. He spilled some water on the kitchen unit, and when his mother handed him a piece of paper to clean it up with, she forced him to meet her eyes, so blue, so very much like his own.
"I'm sorry, John. I'm so sorry." She touched his arm, gently, she wanted to hug him, but sensed that right, now her only son couldn't bear her touch. "Is there anything I can do?"
John shook her head. "She won't talk to me, Mom. And I can't say I can blame her."
"What do you mean?"
The steaming hot tea was finished, and he carelessly poured her a cup, then hesitantly prepared one for himself, without really wanting to have one, but he needed to keep his hands preoccupied with something. "It's my fault, Mom. Everything is my fault. If I hadn't been the person I am, Delenn would never have to go through all this. I *knew* that she might be in danger because of the child she was carrying. And still - I didn't do enough to protect her. In fact, ever since we met I haven't done anything but hurting her." His voice was so harsh, so unforgiving towards himself, so hurting. He kept stirring his in his tea with a spoon, adding more and more sugar. The sugar which wouldn't dissolve gathered in the bottom of the cup, and he tried to dissolve it as well without really thinking about what he was doing.
Hurting Delenn. . . She was the last person in the entire universe he'd want to hurt. But now, looking back at the years in which he had known her, wasn't that exactly what he'd done, over and over again? He suddenly remembered their first time. When he, despite her trust and his best intentions, hadn't been able to hold back, to give her the time she needed. The years of celibacy since Anna's death had simply been too much, and his blind passion caused him to lose control, hurting her when he broke through. He hadn't really understood how badly he had hurt her until afterwards, when he had seen the blood and felt how she had shrunk under his hand when he had touched her. That was when he had realized that she had been a virgin, which he *should* have known, or at least expected. Close to tears he had begged her to forgive him, trying to explain, but she had silenced him with a soft, tender kiss. The tears of pain were still visible on her face, but she had insisted that it would be alright, there was nothing to forgive, she should've told him, and there'd be another time.
But now, looking back at how he had treated her, this act which should've been a joining of two lovers and not just a selfish one-man race, it only added to his burden of guilt. He had let her down - again. Delenn had been right about those other times, though. He hadn't touched her again that night, afraid to hurt her even more. He had just held her, and despite her pain she seemed to be enjoying just lying close to him, feeling his warmth. But two nights later they had tried again, and this time he hadn't given in to his desire, this time he had focused only on her and how to make her writhe beneath his touch, how to make her forget the pain and the disappointment. They were hardly the first couple in history who'd had to go through a painful and tough period of getting used to each other, but he couldn't forget the tears he had caused her to spill. The pain she'd had to endure because of *him*. And now - he'd done it again. Only this time making it alright again would be impossible. This time there would be *too* much to forgive.
"Sometimes you hurt the persons you love, John. That's just the way it is, even though you love them so much you can't protect them from everything. You can't protect them from *living*."
"You don't understand, Mom," he whispered. He couldn't tell her about what had happened when Delenn and he had become intimate for the first time, that would be breaking the trust between the two of them, but there were so many other things for which he blamed himself. They weren't necessarily under his control, there wasn't always anything he could've done to prevent them from happening, but he didn't see that. "I've hurt her, over and over again. When Anna came. . . and I followed her to Z'Ha'Dum. She almost starved herself to death! She did it for me! I can't bear that kind of responsibility for her life, not for her. . ." He was pacing the floor, not able to sit still, he *had* to do something. If he didn't, he'd go crazy. "And when I returned from Z'Ha'Dum - you should've seen the look in her eyes when I told her that I have only twenty years left to live."
If John had looked at his mother at that instant, he would've seen and realized that he hadn't even told his parents what had happened to him. About how he had died, and come back, but only for a limited time. But he didn't look at his mother, and Nancy was smart enough to pretend as if nothing had happened. Hopefully, there would be a time for explanations later - but right now, she didn't want to add to her son's burden. As much as the thought of losing her only son hurt her, seeing *him* hurting like this was even worse.
"And then, when I followed Michael to Mars despite everyone's advice. . . and when they rescued me. . . God knows what it must've cost her to defend me - *us* - in front of the whole galaxy like that."
"She did it because she loves you," Nancy said, scared of what was coming next, because she could see that there were even worse things, worse accusations, to come. "You see, Mom, that's just it. I love her *too* much. I knew lots of people were against the wedding, and they were even more upset and angry and hurt when they found out that we were having a baby together. Purity of races and everything. But I didn't care, and now. . . Delenn is the one who's had to pay for me not being willing to listen, and to *think*. That's why I have to let her go."
"What do you mean?" She didn't like this. She didn't like this, not even when Anna had died had she seen him this devastated and far down.
"I love her so much I have to let her go, because she'll never be able to look at me without at the same time seeing the child she lost. That's what she told me after. . . 'I can't see you,' that's what she said."
"She's still in shock, John, and so are you. Obviously you aren't aware of what you are saying, or how to sort out your feelings ab...."
Her son interrupted her. "Sorry, Mom, but I have to go. There's something I have to do." Without giving any further explanation, he was gone, he had more or less escaped from his mother, her questions and her compassion. He didn't want it, couldn't have it. There was someone else he had to talk to, and he knew it, but he couldn't handle that, either. He just had to get out.
"Do you know what this is?" Zack gestured towards the computer screen, showing the diagram over the station. He had highlighted a spot in the ambassadorial section, where he had found the abnormality. Susan took a closer look, then shook her head.
"Some power malfunction, maybe. . . a meltdown somewhere, someone's been having fun with the power system. Happens all the time."
Zack shook his head. "No, that's not it. This is showing a major power configuration - but it's not coming from the reactor. It's not going through the regular power system, I've checked it out. All my scans have come up negative. This, on the other hand. . ."
"Do you think it has something to do with the assault on Delenn?"
"I dunno. Right now I'd be willing to try and believe just about anything."
As Ivanova studied the diagram, a million thoughts were rushing through her head. It could be just a computer malfunction, one voice told her, perhaps it was the voice of reason, perhaps it was someone or something else. It could be just that, a coincidence. Maybe it has nothing to do with Delenn at all. How *could* it have anything to do with her, anyway? It's a good thing John doesn't know about this yet, I have no idea how he might have reacted, thought. . .But what *is* it ?
Then a thought occurred to her. She suddenly remembered something which had happened during the very first year in which Babylon 5 had been operational. She wasn't stationed there at the time, she had only heard Jeffrey Sinclair talking about it once. The station had almost been blown to bits by a person with a changeling net, making it possible for him to change appearances all the time, so it was virtually impossible for security to catch him. Unfortunately, the chameleon nets had a side effect - the energy they produced was so great it was could kill the person using it if it the exposure was prolonged. The amount of energy which had been released in the ambassadorial section wasn't that big, it wasn't damaging - probably not even to the person who wore it. This was clearly something else. But what if. . .
"Zack, what do you know about changeling nets?"
He gave her a strange look. Sometimes he had *no* idea what went on inside her head. This was one of those days. She could come up with the weirdest ideas and stories, and usually he didn't have any choice but to go with her. One of the first things he had been told when he came aboard Babylon 5 was "Don't mess with Ivanova." He had found out later that it was a good rule to live by. He started talking, sounding almost as if he was reading aloud from a book: "Well, er. . . They are banned in almost every part of the known universe, because it makes it impossible for any government to keep track of the residents and their identity, and besides, wearing a chameleon net is extremely dangerous since the amount of energy released could easily kill you if. . ." His voice trailed off as Susan started checking the records of any entry of the words 'changeling net'. "You don't think this is what we're talking about here, do you?" The intent look on her face was answer enough. "Because that's impossible. They are illegal. Our scanners would've picked them up, and using them would've posed substantial damage to. . ."
"Someone might have done some research on how to improve and modify the changeling nets, Zack, " Ivanova said, while opening a channel to talk to Dr Franklin in MedLab. "We have no idea what for instance the Centauri, the Drakh or even the Earth Alliance have been doing research on during the last couple of years. This is our only shot, isn't it?"
Sheridan hadn't been flying a Star Fury for ages. There simply hadn't been time lately, and he hadn't realized until now how much he had missed it. Flying a White Star ship was one thing. Then you were around other people all the time, and you didn't get the feeling of *space*. Of loneliness, of being on your own without having anyone to trust but yourself.
But being all alone didn't feel so good anymore. It didn't feel good at all.
She was all alone out here somewhere, he suddenly realized, without having anyone to comfort her. How could they possibly send such a tiny person out in space, without having anyone to hold her? Tears fogged his vision for a moment, but he blinked them away. That was why he wasn't feeling that good being in the Star Fury after all - it somehow reminded him of his daughter. She had lived and died in one single breath - then she was gone, and it seemed as if she was going to take everyone else he loved away from him in the process, too.
He turned the Star Fury around, so hard the little ship practically screamed in every joint. He turned it away from Babylon 5, " The shining beacon in space", in the direction in which little Hope's casket had been sent. He knew that he couldn't find it, it was on its way towards the closest star around now, and it was already too far away for him to find." The tiniest of ships sent into the vastest of oceans. . . " Who had said that? He didn't remember where he had heard that phrase before, but he had never truly understood its full meaning - until now.
He had to go. He had to get away. Maybe he could find out what it felt like to be one with the universe, too? Once he had thought that he knew what that was like.
Babylon 5 was already out of visual range. But it didn't make him feel any better.
"Du bist min. ih bin din.
A 13th century German poem from München (Munich), poet unknown. It's written in a very old fashioned German, so understanding it is rather hard, but once you get past that it's incredibly beautiful . . . Mail me for a brief translation, if you're interested, but I decided not to translate it here since poetry always loses a lot when translated.
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