OUT OF THE DARKNESS (V)
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The shuttle had landed thirty minutes earlier. Tom had met them and went over the plan as they drove toward where David was being held.
"This place is really out in the sticks and open. If we aren't really careful, they'll see us coming from a mile away. The building is located in the center of the complex. The only way in is over the fence, which is electrified. Now we've been in contact with the power company and they insist they can cut power to the fence without cutting power to the buildings. Go figure. I'm not one to stare down good fortune but I'll believe it when I see it." They neared the point where they were going to have to go on foot. The rover stopped and they all got out. "One other thing," Tom said as he pulled on John's arm, "we have unexpected help."
But before John could ask who, a familiar voice rang out in the night . . .
"Captain Sheridan, how nice to see you again."
John turned around quickly, "Neroon, what are you doing here? I thought the Minbari . . . "
"They are simple fools. First, we need to get going if we are going to get there in time. We can talk as we go."
"Fine, let's go." John said looking over at Tom then back at Neroon in disbelief.
Tom signaled the others to go ahead.
"Nashon, from my clan is on the council," Neroon stated, "he and Lennier were the only ones to speak on your behalf. After Lennier left the council, Nashon called to say you had also left with Entil'Zha and your family. We knew what you said about the Shadow allies was correct. So we waited for word to see if what you thought came to pass. When we heard that they had taken Itzil'Zha we contacted Lennier and told him we were coming in and he'd better make room."
"Neroon, I appreciate this, but why?"
"No one knows this, not even Entil'Zha, and I'm sorry for keeping this from you, but it had to be done."
"What . . . what had to be done?"
"Because your son is Itzil'Zha, the one spoken of in the prophecy as the one who will lead us after the one who is has passed beyond the veil . . . I took it upon myself to teach him the ways of the warrior caste. I knew that Lennier was teaching him the ways of the religious caste and Marcus was teaching him in the ways of the Rangers. He needed to be prepared. I had only hoped that it wouldn't have come so soon."
"Why you? After all we've been through? You could have had anyone teach him!"
Neroon shook his head, "There are still some among my caste who would have lashed out at you through your child. I could not allow this to happen. Anyway, the children of our caste start training very early. By the time they are your son's age they are capable of killing a man. Your son was far behind in all the skills needed by a warrior. I know he may not be a warrior, but if he is to lead all our people, he needs to understand them and their ways. At first, I too thought he was weak but as our lessons continued I saw that he never gave up, never stopped trying, never quit no matter what obstacle was thrown up in front of him. I knew he was truly Itzil'Zha." Neroon stopped, a look of trepidation came over his features, then he started again. "My son is a man now, with a family of his own. We don't see each other very often, don't talk as often as we should. Teaching your son was like teaching my son all over again. It brought back a lot of fond memories for me. Itzil'Zha is a lot like Ra'shon. The tougher the situation becomes the more focused they become."
"That's all well and good and I'm glad David may be prepared for this but . . . why are *you* here, now?"
"Before being accepted as a warrior in training an initiate must have a sponsor. I assumed that role, but over time it became more than just a sponsorship. I began to look after him as I would one of my own. I knew you were away, knew Marcus was away a lot . . . Sometimes the other children were hard on him and he needed guidance from a man. I enjoyed the fact that he'd come to me for advice. I never tried to take your place, only as a surrogate until you were able to be with him. So I am here in as much to protect my own as you are Captain. We do not leave our own all alone in the dark."
"Neroon, I don't know what to say ... except thank you. I just hope he's using some of what you taught him."
John was truly dumbstruck. He knew his friends had taken an interest in his children, but not his enemies. No, he couldn't call Neroon an enemy, at least not in the full sense of the word. Though they had fought together in the war, John felt as if Neroon still carried a grudge. That he held some sort of hostility toward John because he had willingly followed Delenn into this Army of Light, because everyone had always followed Delenn, because she had been Entil'Zha, she had been the one to break the council. He felt somehow that Neroon thought less of him because he was human. But now he was seeing something beneath the warrior, something of the man. Had his encounter with David really changed his views on humans? And the revelation of about David's path... Delenn had never said anything to him about this part of the prophecy.
Suddenly they came to a halt. Tom approached quietly, "From here on out we have a communications blackout in effect. Our teams are moving to encircle the complex. See that building over there... that provides us with a blind spot in their security. Itzil'Zha and your father are being held in the building just beyond this one. In approximately five minutes the switch will be thrown and the fence will go dead. Once inside we will have to move quickly. We are the closest team to the building where they are being held. Be ready to go on my mark. Valen be with us all tonight!"
Susan and Michael had gone with the only other team that could possibly get to David as easily as John's group could. They both wanted to be ready, both wanted to get to David before ...
David laid on the floor, the voices around him laughing, teasing, asking him where his great Minbari strength had gone. He didn't know how long he'd been there in the circle of light but it was beginning to feel like forever. In the moments between questions and prodding he again asked for courage. The courage to face his aggressors, for the will to be able to wait for his father. He knew in his heart that his father was coming, all he had to do was hold out long enough.
"Let him lay there for a while. Sanchez, you and Atumbo stay and watch after the little brat. We'll be back in a little while. I need to check on when our associates will be arriving. Then we can take our friend here out for a ride. Would you like that freak?" The voice spat from the dark as he and the others departed.
Panic came over him. Could his father reach him in time? He knew that if these men got him off world his father would never get to him. He could feel his shell starting to crack. He felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up, as if something was touching his mind. He knew that touch. It felt like Susan, but where was she? Was his mind starting to play tricks on him? Or was he just hoping it was her! Again he prayed that someone he cared about show up.
The moments seemed to drag on forever. Then suddenly one of the rangers moved from his position to a place along side the fence in anticipation of the power loss. Checking his chrono he ran a piece of insulated wire across the meshing. Seeing no spark, he proceeded in cutting out a section of the fence.
Motioning to the others, each taking their turn in entering the compound through the opening.
They had gotten inside the perimeter easily enough but getting to the building where David was being held was another matter. Tom watched the guards, timed them, waited for the right moment. After a minute or two he motioned for two of the rangers to cross at the place where the shadow of the building was broken slightly by the light emanating from inside. John knew it would give them only temporary protection against discovery.
Waiting their turn, John and Neroon went together. Reaching the far end of the building they waited for Tom to join them. Once his team was in place, they slipped in through the door.
Sneaking along the hallway they came to a doorway leading to an open area. Scanning the area they saw that they had the cover of several crates. They could hear voices coming from inside; laughing, but unable to discern what was being said. John motioned for the team to split up, to encircle the area as much as possible. He could see a light projecting downward into the middle of the room. As they came as near as they dared John looked over the boxes to see a sight which made him angry and sick all at the same time. There in the light was his son, laying on the floor. His emotions were boiling to the surface but as he rose to go after his son he felt an hand on his arm.
Neroon stayed the Captain. Putting his finger to his lips, he stuck forth his other hand to show him a collapsed pike. Motioning to John that if he could distract those keeping an eye on David, he could get the pike to him. Neroon knew that if Itzil'Zha had a weapon in his hand he could at least defend himself.
In sudden understanding, John found some bolts among the components in the boxes. Taking a couple in his hand, he tossed them to the far end of the warehouse.
Startled, the two guards moved in that direction calling out. It gave Neroon the moment he needed. Launching the pike, it came to rest a half meter from David.
Hearing the ching of the metal on the floor David quickly stuck his hand out to grab it. Relief swelled through his body. He knew he was no longer alone, and now that he had something he could work with he felt re-energized.
No more had David reached out for the pike when he heard them, particularly that voice, coming back into the room. He decided to stay where he was, but now he was prepared for whatever was to come.
"So freak, are you ready to go for a little ride. Our new friends will be here in about an hour. Oh, and if I were you I'd stop praying that your father and his friends to show up. They'll never find you and once we're gone they won't even know where to start looking."
David stood up and turned squarely in the direction of where the pike had come from, then turned to address the voice in the dark. "Don't be so sure of yourself. From what my father told me you have always underestimated him and his allies." Then with as much fury as he could muster he challenged his opponent, "If you want me come and get me, if you think you're man enough."
"Well, well the mute speaks, and such a smart mouth for such a small boy! You think you can take me... who's been the one on the floor?" Coming into the light David could see the man's face now, it was horribly disfigured. "Come on boy, take a poke at me. Come on, you think you're so brave? You won't think so when I'm finished with you. You'll be crying for that whore you call Mother," with that the man took a swing at David.
John watched from the shadows, he wanted desperately to help his son, but again Neroon stopped him. This was beginning to piss John off. He knew he should be out there, taking on those who had done this to his boy, fighting those who were saying those things about his wife.
But Neroon knew what David was doing, knew he was trying to get his opponent off balance mentally, opening that moment where confusion would lend itself to surprise and victory.
They both watched as the man took his swing at David. As the man lurched toward him, the pike was extended and with the full force of his body behind him David swung it in an upward motion sending the man backwards across the floor.
In that instant, Tom signaled for the others outside to take action while John and his team entered the fray.
Fighting was going on all around him. John tried to get to his son but bodies kept coming after him. Through the fracas, he could see his son defending himself as easily as any other ranger there. In a twisted sort of way John felt alive, to be in a fight with his son by his side, fighting for what was right and good in the universe. Defending those who were unable to defend themselves. He was never before so proud of his son, but then he had others to thank for David's development.
Other rangers entered the building as the melee started to wane. As John got closer to his son, David turned to see the frame of the man who had been his tormentor sneak out the door toward where his grandfather was being held. Moving toward him he headed for the doorway. John looked at Neroon, as they both seemed to know what the other was thinking. Each took off after David. Winding their way though the maze of hallways, they came behind David who signaled them to be quiet. He was watching the man unlock the door to the room where his grandfather was.
They saw him unlock it then enter and David Sheridan was pulled to his feet. They could see the man pull a PPG and aim it at the older Sheridan. David moved with the grace of a gazelle, and before the man knew it David was in the room swinging his pike knocking the gun from his hand, as another fluid motion from the boy brought down the staff to take the man's legs out from under him. David brought the pike off to one side, with one end toward the man's face he readied himself to deliver the death blow.
/Itzil'Zha, nai!/ Neroon shouted.
David seemed to hesitate, he very much wanted to end this nightmare. He pulled the pike back again as to start over.
"David, don't!" John called after him, "He isn't worth it. This isn't justice, it's revenge. Let the law handle this!"
"What about Shana and Grandma?" David cried out still holding the pike over the man. "I had said I'd be there to protect Shana and I couldn't. I felt helpless against him, against his kind."
John came over and took the staff from his son's hands. "David, your sister is all right, she did what you told her to do. So you were able to protect her. She's fine!" Looking up at his own father - John finished, "Grandma will be okay too! Come on let's leave him to the others who will see that justice is served."
David came into his father's arms. "I'm just glad you're ok son! You and Granddad." As they walked out of the cell several rangers entered to take custody of the man. "You fought very bravely. I'm real proud of you!"
Coming back into the warehouse, Michael and Susan met them. Each glad they other survived, but much more happier knowing that David alive. Hugs were being given out all around.
Neroon started to walk away, seeing this was a time for family. Having helped deliver David from this crisis he knew it was time to go.
David saw him walk away. He called out after him, "Neroon! Neroon!"
Neroon stopped and turned to face Itzil'Zha. David came running at him and leapt into his arms, giving him a crushing hug. "I don't care about Minbari dignity at this point Neroon, thank you for being here with my dad, and everyone else. Thank you for being here for me! And thank you for helping me. I tried to use what you taught me." David reached into his pocket and handed the pike to Neroon, "Here, I think this belongs to you!"
"No, today you became a warrior, it belongs to you now. Use for right and good. Use it as I have taught you." Neroon hugged the boy harder, "Just remember I will always be around if you need me. I love you David!"
"I love you too, Neroon!" He whispered back.
Neroon put David down and started to walk away again, but Tom's voice stopped him.
"Captain, Lennier just signaled, something is coming through hyperspace exiting at the far end of the system, they should be here in about twenty five minutes."
John started giving orders, "Michael take the shuttle and several of the rangers with you, get David back to the house. Susan, you and I will head to the White Star and take command. Tom get on the comm with Lennier tell him to bring in everything we got. This is it people, let's move!"
"Captain Sheridan, if I could offer you a ride to the Dre'ast, you can command the whole fleet from our tactical center."
"Fine, Susan take command of the White Star, I'm going with Neroon!"
"Dad, I want to come with you!" David called out after his father.
"No, David! I need you here to look after your mother and your sister. You promised, remember? A ranger never breaks his promise, does he?"
"No, he doesn't," he said dejectedly as Michael came and rested a hand on his shoulder.
"Come on sport, let's get you home. I know a couple of girls who are dying to get their hands on you!" He teased the younger boy.
Neroon led John to the tactical center of the Dre'ast and started to leave.
"Wait a minute, you're not getting off that easily Neroon! You helped my son, now you can help me. As I recall there are three lights in this room; one for the warrior, one for the worker and one for the religious. Well as I see it we've only got the two of us and that will have to do!" John contended.
"No, there is a third!" came a soft voice from the dark.
"Delenn! What are you doing here?" John questioned as she emerged into the light.
"Lennier called me, he said that David was fine and that Michael was bringing him home. He also said that you and Neroon were heading here to put a end to this once and for all. How many times must I repeat myself John Sheridan, we are in this together. Now, as you say; lead, follow, or get out of the way!"
Putting his hands up in surrender, he motioned for her to take her place as he heard a laugh come from Neroon. Images started to appear overhead and all around. Not only did other White Star class vessels emerge from the jump point but so did Minbari cruisers, Narn dreadnaughts, Drazi warships, Vree fighters and many others. It was truly a spectacular moment. Over the comm system he also heard the voice of the President.
"Captain Sheridan, Earth Force stands with you, take command of our ships and may Buddha be with us all."
John looked at Delenn, feeling very much as he had when he put on his first Earth Force uniform. He knew then he could take on the universe, but in the years since the break from Earth he still felt separated from his people. Even though they were all on the same side now, there was still wariness between EarthDome toward the Army of Light. But in this moment he knew they would be more than victorious, not only against the shadow allies but in finally being able to put Earth back on the right track. He could see in Delenn's eyes that she felt the same about Minbar.
"This is Captain Sheridan, get ready, they're heading in on an attack vector. Fighters and thunderbolts take point. Minbari cruisers fan out along the perimeter. Those White Star vessels already around Earth, stay there, also all Earth Force battleships we'll need you to protect all of our citizens against the darkness. Those ships on an intercept course from Mars hold back, come in behind them. This is it, here we draw the final line, from this point we will say no more! Break and attack!"
The battle played out in front of them. All three were issuing orders, reorganizing the battle, watching as the allies of the shadows were destroyed. The fleet was relentless, pursuing, driving forward, destroying their opponent in their path, leaving broken enemy hulls in their wake. It was glorious and sad. As the battle slowed, John looked at the destruction around him, how long had he waited for this moment? How long had he planned for this? How many of his friends and comrades had died for this moment? But no one was going to have to be sacrificed again.
He watched as those on the battle field cleaned up the mess, hauled in the wounded, tractored in those who had ejected from their starfuries. He turned to Neroon and bowed, "It looks like I owe you my thanks again, Neroon. It means a great deal to me that you chose to do the right thing even if it wasn't what your government wanted. How can I repay you?"
"Payment is unnecessary. I did what I did because it was right. Because you were right. Everything else is negotiable. But I would like to ask for one thing... I'd still like to continue training your son."
Delenn looked surprised but John put his arm around her and laughed. "I used to think he was our son," John said as he gave Delenn a squeeze, "but the more I look around at the people who care for him, at those who have taken him under their wing, trained him, taught him, looked after him, I realized he is only under our protection until the time he becomes a man. He belongs to the universe, so he is as much your son as mine Neroon, and I think David would like to see you again as well."
Neroon stuck out his hand, "Thank you, Captain, Entil'Zha. I won't let any harm come to him while he is in my care."
"We know it won't, Neroon." Delenn countered. She looked up at John in silent communication and he nodded in agreement, "We'd like you to come to the farm, sort of a victory party."
"I don't know..."
"Oh come on, plus David would never forgive us if you left without a proper goodbye." John argued.
"Well since you put it that way Captain, how can I refuse. Let me know and I will be there." With that Neroon left the command center and his light was extinguished.
"What was that all about and how long has he been training David?" Delenn asked as she and John left.
"I'll tell you as soon as you tell me about the part of the prophecy dealing with the one who will lead after the one who is passes beyond the veil and what it had to do with our son?" He retorted.
Delenn stopped in her tracks. "In Valen's name, I thought it was speaking about me, that I would take over again after you... Could it possibly be David? He'll be so young when... Oh John, I didn't think it could be talking about him, but now I see it clearly. He won't possibly be ready in time, he's just a boy!"
"Delenn, I wouldn't worry about that. With all our friends pitching in and even some unknown allies helping, I think David will be more than prepared. You should have seen him. He was resolute there in the warehouse. No, I don't think either of us have to worry about him."
It was several days before they could organize themselves. People had to be invited, food had to be prepared, but most importantly Kathryn had to come home. She had been moved from ICU but they wanted to make sure her situation was stable enough for her to leave the hospital.
It was more like a family reunion at the Sheridan farm than a victory party, but all those invited and all those who came felt like family.
John and his father had ordered a down home country bar-b-que, complete with all the trimmings.
It was a new concept for Lennier but he was already taking in so much he hardly had time to process all of it. He was like a kid with a new toy. He had never been to Earth and though he had seen pictures of it he never fully grasped just how beautiful it really was. And the smell; clean and warm. The breeze wrapping itself around him. "Now I see why you never wanted me to come along Delenn, you wanted to keep this place all to yourself!" he teased her. "It's so different from Minbar, I'm glad the other half of our soul comes from here."
"Well now you know my secret, Lennier. But if John and his family are willing to share it with me, I guess I can share it with you as well. I must confess that I feel very much at home here, Lennier. Probably more so now than I do on Minbar."
"Have you talked to the Captain about staying here. Now that the threat is gone. The Shadows have finally and completely been neutralized, why not stay? There isn't much time left Delenn, take the moments!"
She seemed to contemplate his assertion, she knew he was speaking truthfully and from the heart. Could she convince him? Could they leave their post? The universe needed him if it was going to pull itself together! "We'll see," was all she could muster.
Both she and Lennier turned upon hearing a commotion coming from the kitchen.
"David Sheridan, I am not an invalid! I will not sit around while others mess up my kitchen."
"Yes, you will! These are your son's friends and you will go out there and prepare yourself to be the hostess, not the cook, do I make myself clear Kathryn."
"Crystal!" was the response. The door opened up as Kathryn and her grandson came down the ramp that had been constructed since she had been confined to a wheelchair until she recovered. Everyone all of a sudden had things to do.
With Kathryn out of the way, David took this moment to talk to his son, "Johnny there's something I've been meaning to tell you about David!"
"What Dad? What is it?"
"When we were in the cell, something happened to him, nothing bad, just something. It's hard to describe. He started to pray, then the prayers changed midway though. I could no longer understand what he was saying and for a brief moment a light came from nowhere and encircled him. It seemed to radiated around him and from him. Is he ok?"
John looked out the kitchen window at his son and mother, then at Delenn and smiled, "Yeah Dad, he's okay. I'll let you in on a secret, perhaps the greatest of all time." John laughed at the memory, "The molecules of our body are the same molecules that make up this house and the sky, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff, we are the universe, made manifest, trying to figure itself out. David is special because he is in touch with the universe. The rest of us, well we're still trying to figure it out."
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