UNDERSTANDING

By Walter Kingston

 

 

 

 

*****

Zack studied the paperwork in his hands, but his mind was blank. He set the transparent sheets down, shook his head to clear out the cobwebs, and tried again. Still nothing. "Why in God's name is paperwork so damned boring," he thought. He let out a groan of frustration and shoved the papers to one side of his desk.

   It wasn't that long ago that it was Garibaldi's desk, but the Chief had resigned and Zack was promoted to replace him. "How did the Chief ever stand all this crap," he muttered aloud.

   "I do not know," responded Delenn, who had just entered the office and stood in the doorway with a smile. "Is that why you asked me here, Mister Allan?"

   Startled, Zack looked at Delenn and frowned ever so slightly. "No, Ambassador. It's just this damned paperwork . . . I mean, I had to do paperwork before, but nothin' like this. This stuff can rot your brain." He paused in a moment of self-reflection. "In fact, I think it has rotted my brain. I can't even think straight anymore." He smiled at the thought and then turned his attention back to his visitor.

   "Uhh, actually, Ambassador, I wanted to get your help with some of the minbari on station. Since the Captain ordered all non-essential personnel to Epsilon Three or elsewhere, my people have been trying to deliver the word and make sure everyone was cooperating. But we've been having some trouble with some people. In particular, there's a bunch of minbari who refuse to leave. Some are merchants or transport captains who claim that Babylon Five is the only place they can do their business, but others refuse to leave for more, uhh, spiritual reasons."

   Delenn gave Zack a curious look at that statement, which he quickly took to be a request for more detail, so he continued. "They say they won't leave so long as you're here." It was his turn to give her a questioning look.

   "I see," said Delenn, a little surprised. "If you can send me a list of the minbari who refuse to leave, I'll see what I can do."

   Zack smiled and reached down to pick up a piece of paper from the desk. "Right here." He handed the paper to Delenn and she accepted it with a nod and a smile.

   "Very well, then, Mister Allan. I'll see what I can do about changing their minds."

   "Thank you, Ambassador."

    ----------

   A tall, hooded figure dressed in a black, studded Minbari warrior's uniform entered the customs area of docking bay eight and stood at the back of a line of three people being processed by security. As the warrior waited, it gazed out upon the mass of people, mostly trying to leave the station -- people of all races, sizes, genders, and shapes.

   When the first person in line was cleared by the guard and the line advanced, the warrior reached up and removed the black hood to reveal a young, male minbari, his eyes filled with strength and authority. A nearby minbari, upon seeing his face, shuddered and lowered her eyes to avoid direct contact. If the warrior noticed, he did not show it.

   The line advanced through the two people remaining before him and he stood before customs guard Lyle Ullman, who was holding his identicard scanner in one hand and holding his other out in anticipation of the warrior's identicard. His eyes were directed down at the scanner, so when he didn't feel the identicard in his hand, he routinely requested it. "Identicard."

   There was no response, so the Ullman looked up at his arrival. The size of his frame and the power of his visage took Ullman back and he gulped. "Uhh . . . I need to see your identicard, please."

   A faint smile traced upon the warrior's lips as he reached into his pocket and smoothly pulled out his card and handed it gently to Ullman. Ullman accepted it and nervously inserted it into his scanner. A few seconds later, he removed it and slowly handed it back to the warrior. "Thank you. Please continue," he suggested with a motion of his empty hand.

   The warrior began to slip his card away and spoke in a confident and commanding voice, "I wish to see Sheridan."

   "Uhh, is . . . he expecting you?"

   The warrior looked down with a blank expression at Ullman. "No. But he will see me."

   Ullman thought for a moment and then seemed to reach a decision. He turned and waved one of the area guards over to him. "G'Koth, come here." A female narn looked up upon hearing her name and quickly walked over to Ullman. "Take two others and escort this one to the Captain's office."

   G'Koth nodded understanding and took the lead, which the warrior immediately followed. Ullman couldn't help but be fascinated by this minbari, and he watched as the group left the customs area. And then, as if waking from a daze, he shook his head and activated his link.

   "Ullman to Allan."

   "Allan here, what's up," came the reply in Zack's familiar, yet tired voice.

   "Chief, a minbari warrior just asked to see the Captain. He said he didn't have an appointment, but I sent G'Koth and two others to escort him there anyway."

   "What?! Why'd you do that? You know proper procedure is to call it in first, Lyle."

   "I know, Chief. But there was something . . . I dunno, weird about this guy; I can't explain it. But maybe you should let the Captain know he's got a visitor."

   Zack sighed. "Okay, fine. Get back to work, Lyle. I'll handle this. But, for God's sake, no more surprises, okay?"

   Ullman smiled. "I promise, Chief."

    ----------

   Delenn entered John's office quietly, as was her usual method of entrance anywhere. It was lunch time and she and John had planned to share each other's company in the Zocalo over a midday meal. She rounded the doorway, looked up, and stopped, dead in her tracks, her mouth hanging open as if ready to speak. John was standing with his back to her, close to a wall monitor, watching footage of what appeared to her to be a Babylon Five Council Meeting.

   She stepped closer to get a better look and could see that it was a meeting from before her transformation in the Chrysalis. He had stopped the video on a frame which featured her clearly. And he was studying it. This made Delenn a bit uncomfortable for some reason. She had always just assumed that John had seen pictures of her before her change, but she never really thought about it until that moment. What did he think of her? Was her previous form attractive to him? Did it frighten him? "I wonder what he's thinking," she thought.

   And then, without turning around, John spoke, softly. "Hello, Delenn."

   She was surprised. "How . . . How did you know I was here?"

   "I could smell you," he responded as quietly as before. This threw her as she wondered if she was emitting some sort of foul odor.

   John turned, his serious expression turning to a smile and then a laugh as he witnessed her distress. "Not like that," he said as he finished a soft chuckle. "I mean you have a wonderful smell about you. I don't know what it is. But whatever it is, I like it."

   She smiled as she met his eyes, lost in her deep feelings for him. But she soon grew uncomfortable again and looked down from his gaze. "John, I see that you were looking at old records of me. I . . . I was wondering . . . what do you think when you look at me before my change?"

   John smiled and turned back to the monitor. He reached up and gently touched the face of the minbari woman before him. "I always wondered what you looked like, Delenn. I mean, I saw records of you when I came to take command of the station, but I really didn't remember them. So, on a whim, I just decided to bring up some old records."

   He paused as his hands traced the outline of her face on the screen. "What do I think? I think I see before me the woman I love. It's the eyes, Delenn. I look at your eyes and I see you. It doesn't matter what shell you're in at the time, I can always find you." He turned from the monitor and walked slowly over to her, taking her by the forearms as he continued. "I honestly think I would have loved you just the same if you had never changed."

   Delenn's look of distress began to melt and give way to a smile.

   "You see, hon . . ." he moved his hand to cover her heart. "You're in here. It doesn't matter if you're a minbari, a human, a . . . narn, a drazi, . . . a dog or a cat," he added with a laugh. Delenn couldn't help but give in to a little chuckle herself. "I'd love you no matter what. And I do love you, Delenn," he finished, his smile replaced by a look of pure love and admiration as he stared deeply into her eyes.

   "You're going to make me cry, John," she said, too late, as a tear escaped from her right eye and made its way down her cheek. John reached his hand up and stopped the tear's progress with his finger. Then he moved his finger to his mouth and tasted it.

   "As long as they're tears of joy, I can't complain."

   The display which held the image of Delenn was replaced by an image of Zack Allan. "Captain, sorry to bother you, but you have a visitor."

   Sheridan turned to the display, releasing Delenn from his grasp. "Visitor? Who?"

   "It's a minbari warrior. One of my people let him through without checking with you first. He's on his way to your office with three guards. I thought you might want to be prepared."

   John turned to Delenn and gave her a confused and questioning look. She shrugged her shoulders and he turned back to the display. "All right, thanks, Zack. We'll be ready for him."

   The monitor returned to the shot of Delenn and John returned his attention to his fiancee. He smiled. "From the records I've viewed, you sure were the same feisty little Delenn I know and love."

   This brought a quick laugh to Delenn, and then she got serious and distant. "It seems like such a long, long time ago -- a lifetime away." She paused and then looked up at John. "Sometimes, I remember events in my past, and I think, for a moment, that they happened to someone else. It's difficult to explain . . ."

   "I think I know what you mean. But it doesn't matter. What we have here and now is what's really important." He took a deep breath and shifted gears. "Anyway, what brings you here at this time of the morning?"

   "The fact that it is no longer morning brings me here, John," she said with a knowing smile.

   John appeared confused for a moment and then opened his mouth in sudden understanding. "Ahh, yes. Lunch. Well, let me shut this stuff down and we'll go get something to eat."

   John began to turn back toward his desk when activity at the door caught his eye. A narn security guard entered, followed quickly by a minbari warrior. Two more guards stopped at either side of the doorway and waited.

   "Captain," G'Koth spoke, "this minbari wished to speak with you."

   Delenn, a smile still fresh on her face, turned to see the minbari warrior. But when she caught sight of him, her smile dropped with a sudden terrible recognition. The warrior turned his eyes slowly and met her gaze. His face was hard and unfriendly, and hers was nervous and knowing.

   "What can I do for you," John asked. The warrior turned his attention back to Sheridan.

   "You are Sheridan," he asked in a deep voice that sent chills down John's spine.

   "Yes. I'm afraid I'm at a disadvantage; I don't know your name."

   The warrior turned back toward Delenn and spoke, "That's not important. But if you must know, ask her; She knows." Delenn was still staring at the tall figure in a strange combination of shock and understanding. The warrior noticed the image of Delenn on the monitor behind her and, for a moment, his eyes came alive. But then they fell back on her current form and the fire died.

   John looked at Delenn and, for the first time, noticed her reaction to this minbari. Her uneasiness made him impatient and in a demanding tone, he repeated his request. "What can I do for you?"

   The minbari turned back to face Sheridan. "I will know your honor, Sheridan."

   "And what the hell is that supposed to mean," asked Sheridan, growing more irritated with this mysterious visitor.

   "Delenn will explain everything. You will see to it that my needs are met." The implied "or else" worried John, so much so that the thoughts escaped his lips.

   "Or else what," he demanded.

   The minbari glanced at Delenn and then back at John. "I will go and prepare now." The warrior turned and moved quickly and gracefully out of the room, catching G'Koth by surprise. She turned and jogged after him.

   The guards had left and John turned to look at Delenn who was still staring where the warrior had been. He moved to her and gently grabbed her arm. She turned to face him, shock still evident on her face.

   "Who was that, Delenn?"

   "His name is Dekhat."

   "Dukhat," John asked in amazement, having misheard the name.

   "No, Dekhat. Dukhat was his father." She lost the look of shock and began to study the floor as she thought hard about what had just happened.

   "Why does Dukhat's son want to 'know my honor'?"

   Delenn raised her head back up to look at John. "There is a tradition among minbari. When a member of the family is to marry, the eldest of the opposite gender is charged with determining the worthiness of the new spouse. If a male member of the family is to marry, then the eldest female is required to evaluate the future wife. If it is a female that is to marry, then the eldest male must approve of the new husband."

   "Well, that's fine, but what does that have to do with Dekhat and my honor?"

   "Dekhat wishes to determine if you are worthy enough to marry me."

   "What business is it of his?"

   She paused, swallowing hard and averting her eyes from him. Then, as if summoning a reserve of courage, she took a deep breath and looked deep into his eyes.

   "He is my son and the eldest male in my family."

   She waited for a response from him. All she got was a blank stare. Anything would have been better than that. Shock, anger, even sadness. But he just stared at her.

   After what seemed an eternity, he spoke. "Son?"

   "Yes. Before the war with your people, Dukhat and I were . . . attached."

   "Attached? How?"

   "We were not married, if that's what you're wondering. When I was very young -- only an initiate -- Dukhat thought that he saw something special in me. He was Satai at that time, and he arranged for me to serve the inner- circle of the Grey Council." She waited for his reaction. That blank stare was still there. She couldn't look at him directly now; It made her too uncomfortable. So she looked at his chest and continued.

   "He was Satai and I was merely an acolyte, so we did not see each other often, and we almost never spoke. But he always held a magical quality with me. I found myself thinking of him constantly." She looked up at him again. "I'm sorry, John. I'm . . . sorry I never told you this before. I just . . . I thought it was long behind me. Dekhat and I had not seen each other for years, he had not tried to contact me and . . . It all seems as if it happened to someone else -- as if it were another lifetime."

   His expressionless stare pierced her heart and she lowered her eyes again. "I advanced quickly through the ranks of the inner-circle and was soon in line to become Satai myself. After our leader passed beyond the veil, and we observed the required time of mourning, Dukhat was selected as the new leader. I was chosen to replace him on the Council. As priest and Satai, we could not associate. But as Satai and leader, we could." She swallowed, closed her eyes and fought off the emotion as she continued.

   "Soon after my ascension, I bore him a child. Dekhat."

   She stared at his chest and watched it rise and fall with every breath. She wondered, if her own heart had not been racing and pounding so loudly, if she could have heard his beating.

   John reached down and lifted her chin so that she would look upon his face. The expressionless stare had been replaced by an expression. It wasn't large, but he was smiling. She expected a lot of reactions, but joy was not one of them.

   "As you said, Delenn, that was a long time ago. I can't possibly be upset by this. I just wish . . . I just wish you'd have told me sooner." She began to speak, but he raised a finger to cover her lips. "Shh. Don't speak. You don't need to say anything more." She wasn't sure if she wanted to cry or jump for joy, so, instead, she buried her head in his chest and wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace.

    ----------

   In his newly rented room, Dekhat carefully unpacked a small bag that had been delivered to the room. The spartan room seemed to match his personality.

   The door chime sounded, catching him off-guard. He stopped his unpacking and lifted his head as if to listen for some sound beyond the door. "Yes?"

   "I wish to speak with you, Dekhat," came Delenn's voice through the intercom.

   Dekhat relaxed and returned to his work. "Enter," he commanded.

   The door slid open and Delenn stepped inside, stopping once she'd gotten far enough to allow it to close. She stood there, hands interlocked before her, as she watched him intently. He continued to slowly, methodically unpack his small bag, placing each item carefully on the table before him. The contents of the bag didn't much interest her, but her son did. She studied him carefully, noting how much he'd grown since she last saw him. How well grown and intricate his headbone had become. "He's so graceful," she thought in amazement. "So much like his father."

   "If you've come to ask me to disregard our customs, mother, I will not."

   "No. I've come to talk to my son. I respect our customs."

   "Do you," he asked, his back still to her as he continued his work. "Is that why you went through this . . . change?"

   "What I did, I did because of prophecy; It was my destiny."

   "Destiny." He spat the word back at her with a sarcastic snort.

   "Do not speak to your mother in that tone," she commanded.

   He stopped his work, looked up slowly and turned to face her. "My mother no longer exists. Just this . . . thing before me." The words stung Delenn, but she didn't let it show. She'd been called worse in the last few years, but never by her own flesh and blood. "You have turned your back on our people . . . Delenn. And you insult us all by choosing this human, this . . . Starkiller as your new mate."

   "Sheridan is an honorable man, Dekhat. You will come to know that." He studied her from head to toe and then turned back to his work.

   "I will find what I find. And my decision will be final."

   "I haven't seen you in a long time. I've missed you." He paused and then resumed his work without a word. "I wish you had chosen a life in temple so that we could have spent more time together."

   "Are you still upset that I chose to become a warrior, mother?"

   "Your father did not approve."

   "My father is dead," he said with hard certainty. "And your prospective mate's people killed him." He turned back to face her again. "Doesn't that bother you, mother?"

   "Your father's death was a terrible moment in my life and the lives of all Minbari, Dekhat. But John Sheridan had nothing to do with it. You cannot hold one human responsible for the actions of another. Humans are not like us."

   "Us?" He laughed softly, but the smile quickly died and in a serious tone, he asked, "What are you, mother? You're not minbari, you're not human . . . You're not the mother I remember from my youth. What are you?"

   "I am still your mother, Dekhat; I am still Delenn. My heart has not changed. My soul has not changed. And I still have my memories." She smiled. "I still remember the little boy who loved to watch the fighters fly in formation on special days. I still remember the young one who needed his mother's warmth and comfort when he was ill."

   For the first time, Dekhat smiled warmly at the thought. His memories of those things were as fresh as Delenn's and as pleasurable. "I need to get started. Have you made the arrangements?"

   "Yes. I am told that you will be visited by someone who will provide you with everything that you require."

   "Good. I will also need permission to speak with some of those under his command. If he is as honorable as you say, then I will discover this. The truth cannot hide."

   "Then I wish you well in your task, my son." She turned to leave, but just as she reached for the door control, she stopped and turned around. "I would very much like you to come to my room for dinner tomorrow night, Dekhat."

   "I don't know if I'll have the time." Her face dropped, and she turned around to leave. He saw this and concern traced across his features. "But . . . I will try."

   

   

   "So, what brings you to Medlab this fine morning, Mister Allan," queried a professional Stephen Franklin of the security chief standing before his desk.

   "Cap'n wants to know when the sick and wounded can be moved down to the planet," replied Allan, stress evident in his face and voice.

   Franklin nodded. "As soon as they're able. I'm having them moved out on a case-by-case basis. I won't put their lives in jeopardy -- not before it's absolutely necessary."

   Zack sighed and shook his head. "Yeah, well, it might be necessary sooner than you think." He gave Franklin a grave look that the doctor deflected with a flexing of his eyebrows and a silent nod of understanding.

   "I don't see how the Captain can be so sure of an attack," Franklin asked, more to the air than the Zack.

   "I know, it's kinda weird. I mean, who's gonna attack? Is it gonna be the Earth Alliance? The Shadows? The Vorlons? Who?"

   Franklin had no answers; He just stared at a nearby wall, deep in thought.

   He wasn't going to get any farther with this tonight, so Zack excused himself and departed the office. As he left Medlab, he passed Dekhat, who was just entering the facility. The minbari stopped just inside the doors and scanned the room. He was looking for someone matching the photo of Doctor Franklin that had been supplied to him by David Corwin.

   After Delenn had left, Corwin arrived with orders from Sheridan to get whatever materials Dekhat needed to complete his task. He asked for information on the Captain's closest friends on the station and permission to speak with whomever he wished, where ever he wished. He got it.

   He spied Franklin sitting at his desk, still off in silent thought, his eyes giving proof to a mind far, far away. Dekhat walked up to the desk and waited patiently for him to return.

   After a few moments, Franklin turned with a start. "Oh, I'm sorry; I didn't see you come in." He cleared his throat and sat up in his chair. "How can I help you?"

   "You are Doctor Stephen Franklin?"

   A bit puzzled, the doctor replied, "Yes."

   "I am Dekhat. I have been given authority by Sheridan to speak with you."

   It was clear from his manner and tone that this minbari meant to speak with him at that very moment; He did not intend to make an appointment. "Have a seat," Franklin offered as he gestured to one of the chairs next to the tall warrior.

   Dekhat glanced to his left and sat ever so stately upon one of the two chairs used for guests. When he came to a rest, he looked at Franklin with penetrating eyes, which made the doctor a little nervous.

   "Now, then," Franklin began, "What can I do for you?"

   "It is about Sheridan. I wish to understand the man, so I would like to ask you some questions."

   "May I ask what this is all about?"

   "You may not. But Sheridan has promised me your full cooperation in this matter. You may check with him if you do not believe me."

   Franklin thought about it. "No, that's all right. There's no harm in the truth. Ask your questions, uhh . . .?" He sought a name.

   "I am called Dekhat."

   "Dukhat," Franklin repeated, shocked by the name.

   Dekhat shook his head. "No, Deh-khat," he stated in a mildly annoyed tone.

   "Oh, I'm sorry. It's just a very similar sounding name."

   "As it should be," Dekhat snapped, adding to Franklin's confusion. "At any rate, about Sheridan: How long have you know him?"

   "Well, we met for the first time when he was assigned to Babylon Five. That would have been, oh, about three years ago, I guess."

   Dekhat sat calmly, studying the man and listening to his replies to the questions set to him. The queries were mundane and general for a while, but then came a stunner out of the blue.

   "Would you die for him?"

   Franklin's face reflected the sudden surprise of the blunt and unusual question. "I . . . I've never really thought about it. Do you mean would I die to protect him," he asked, trying to clarify the intent of the inquiry.

   "Not just that. If he asked you to do something which might cause your death, would you do it?"

   "Well, I suppose it would depend on what it was he wanted me to do." He sat for a moment and thought about the question. Then he turned his attention back to Dekhat and spoke with a newfound confidence. "Captain Sheridan is a good man. He's smart, dedicated, and has his head screwed on right. He thinks things through and would never place his people in harm's way unless the stakes were high enough to demand it." He thought for a moment, cocking his head to one side and then resumed.

   "My father is a soldier -- a general. For the longest time, I could never understand how or why he did what he did -- how he could send young people off to kill and be killed. But since I've known Sheridan -- and gotten to know my own father a little better -- I've come to understand that for the greater good to survive, sometimes people have to suffer . . . or even die. It's a sad truth -- one I hope against hope will one day no longer be necessary, but as it is now, it IS necessary. And I can't think of any other person I'd rather have ordering me into danger than John Sheridan."

   Higher praise Dekhat had never heard for a man or a minbari. He was sincerely taken aback by the doctor's declaration of loyalty. And it showed on his face. Franklin noticed and couldn't help but crack a slight smile.

    ----------

   "Allan here, go ahead," Zack spoke into his comlink as he walked down the corridor.

   "Chief, we just caught a minbari warrior trying to gain access to reactor area four. He didn't have any I.D. and when we tried to find out what he was up to . . . Well, he ain't talkin'."

   "That's all we need," Zack said with a heavy sigh. "Take him to lock-up. I'll alert the Captain."

    ----------

   David Corwin stood at the main console of the Command and Control center of Babylon Five, monitoring and controlling the launch of evacuation shuttles leaving for Epsilon Three and other points throughout known space.

   The door slid open and Captain John Sheridan entered. His steady, cold expression, which was common for him of late, gave no indication as to his purpose as he strode over to Corwin's position.

   "What's our status, Lieutenant Commander?"

   Corwin turned to face the Captain and gave his report. "We're down to thirty thousand non-essential personnel, sir. Shuttles are departing at a rate of ten per hour, carrying approximately fifty people per. Chief Allan is dealing with the non-essentials who refuse to leave, as well as the remaining lurkers. According to Draal, Epsilon Three can accommodate five thousand more without a problem." Corwin paused and swallowed hard. "I've, ahh . . . made sure that we have enough room down there for the essential personnel should we ever need to abandon her, sir," he stated questioningly.

   Sheridan only nodded slightly. "Fine. Good work. Keep me advised of any problems."

   "Yes, sir," replied Corwin as the Captain turned to leave.

   A beep from Sheridan's comlink caused him to stop and answer. "Sheridan, go."

   "Cap'n, this is Allan. My people just caught a minbari warrior trying to gain access to the reactor area in Grey Sector. He's on his way to lock-up, but I thought you oughtta be advised."

   Concern flashed on Sheridan's face. "This warrior . . . has he been identified," he asked.

   "No, sir, not yet, but we will."

   "Good. I'm heading down there myself. Sheridan out." He clicked off his comlink and began again to move toward the door, but it opened before he got there and Delenn came racing in. She was obviously upset out something. Upon seeing him, she looked relieved.

   "John! John, I have disturbing news." She met him and he took her by her arms. "I've just been informed by my contacts back home that there is a movement underway to take control of the Minbari government. It seems that some of the more aggressive clans have decided that we will be better off on our own. They want to remove all alien influence from the Federation and go into seclusion until the fighting is over." Serious distress formed on her face. "John, if they succeed, all of our plans -- everything -- may be lost."

   John smiled in an attempt to calm her. "Relax, Delenn. We'll figure this out. There's no need to . . ."

   "Captain," shouted Corwin. Sheridan spun around. "Two of the Minbari warships are leaving."

   "What," a stunned Sheridan asked. "Get 'em on the link!"

   "We're trying," said Corwin as he signaled Station One to establish a communications link to the departing ships.

   "They're not answering," stated the officer manning that post.

   Corwin looked up and out of his window. "There they go." The two Minbari cruisers formed jump points and disappeared from sight.

   Sheridan moved to Corwin's console and stared out the window where the ships had just been. "Which two left?"

   "The Dessart and the Cho'let."

   "Those are warrior caste ships," added Delenn as she came to join the two at the console.

   Sheridan turned to her and then back at Corwin. "Get me Captain Neshonn on the Drakhat."

   "Yes, sir," responded Corwin as he opened a channel.

   Sheridan turned to Delenn. "It looks like your sources may have been right, Delenn."

   "Captain Neshonn on line, sir."

   Turning toward the monitor, Delenn behind him but visible, Sheridan addressed the Minbari Captain. "Neshonn, why did the Dessart and Cho'let leave?"

   "We do not know."

   Sheridan's mood switched suddenly from shock to worry. "Are you going to be able to stay, Neshonn?"

   The Minbari captain's eyes betrayed his knowledge of the true reason for the departure of the other two ships as he searched for an appropriate response. "We will stay as long as Entil'Zha wishes us to stay." His eyes shifted to Delenn.

   Sheridan glanced at his future wife and then back to the display. "Good. I'm glad to hear that, Neshonn. Thank you."

   The Minbari captain nodded and closed the channel.

   Turning back to Delenn, John asked, "We have a minbari warrior in custody, Delenn. It seems he was trying to gain access to the reactor area. I don't know who it is, but I was on my way to security to find out. Do you think it could be Dekhat?"

   "I don't know. I don't think I know him as well as I thought, John. I don't know what he's capable of anymore."

   "Let's go find out," he said as he guided her toward the door and out of Command and Control.

    ----------

   "Our records say his name is Kahlell," Zack told Sheridan and Delenn, who had come to the security office to get a look at the prisoner on the wall monitors.

   "Do you know him," Sheridan asked of Delenn.

   "No, I'm afraid not," she replied.

   Sheridan's attention turned back to Zack. "Any clue yet what he was doing there?"

   "Well, he didn't have anything on 'im, but I'll bet a week's pay he wasn't just lost . . . sir," Zack grinned. It was obvious to the both of them that this warrior had at least intended sabotage. At the worst, he could have contaminated the entire station, essentially killing everyone onboard. But why? That was the question going through Sheridan's mind.

   "Find out why, Zack. I don't care how you do it. This isn't the time for niceties. We need answers, and we need them now."

   "Yes, sir," responded Zack. He knew what the Captain meant. Whatever it took, even if it meant using force, he had to find out what the warrior intended and why. Time was running out.

    ----------

   Dekhat pressed the call button on Delenn's quarters and waited.

   "Yes?" Delenn's voice inquired over the speaker.

   <It is Dekhat,> he replied in low toned Minbari.

   "Come," she commanded and the door swung open. Dekhat entered, allowing the door to close behind him as he scanned the room for his mother. He stopped with a jerk when he saw Sheridan sitting on the sofa beside her.

   He faced tightened. <What is he doing here?>

   Even though he wasn't sure he understood the question, the tone left no doubt in Sheridan's mind as to its content. He wanted to answer, but fought the urge and waited for Delenn to reply. She swallowed and put on her best authority face. "He is here," she replied in English, "because I asked him here. And because he is my betrothed. We often dine together. And, Dekhat, he has a name."

   "You can call me John if you like," Sheridan offered as he stood up. Delenn also stood and made her way toward her kitchen area. Sheridan followed her. Dekhat only watched them.

   "How strange," he thought. "How odd these two. So opposite, yet so alike." He stared at them in wonder as they gathered the prepared components of the meal.

   "Fortunately, Delenn did all the cooking this time," John joked with a smile. "I wouldn't want to give you food poisoning right after meeting you."

   Delenn smiled. "John, your cooking is . . . fine. But I wanted to make something special for Dekhat tonight, in honor of our reunion."

   Dekhat watched them in wonder and curiosity until a scent caught his nose. He sniffed at the air and smiled. "Goshin martal," he asked of his mother.

   Delenn smiled broadly. "Yes. I knew that it was once your favorite dish. I hope you like it."

   Dekhat tried to force the smile from his face, but a trace of it remained. <Yes, I still enjoy it. But I haven't tasted it in a long time. I'm sure I will find it most satisfying.>

   "Then come," she said as she and Sheridan moved the dishes to the small eating table. "Come and sit beside your mother and let us eat and enjoy each other's company."

   The three of them sat at the small table, John letting out a slight groan as he folded his legs into the still unfamiliar posture required for eating in the traditional Minbari manner. Dekhat smiled often as he enjoyed the goshin martal that his mother had prepared for him. When he was a little boy, she used to make it for him once a week and he loved it. A few times that evening, she thought she could see that little boy in his face as he ate and asked for seconds. Sheridan, too, could see the hard face of the warrior melt away to expose Delenn's son to him for the first time.

   When the meal was complete, all three sat in silent meditation, as was customary at the end of a formal Minbari meal. Delenn, being the host, was the first to stir. She cleared her throat to signal that the others may end their meditation. Dekhat was the first to open his eyes, and he noticed Sheridan, sitting on the opposite side of the table. He had gone into meditation before Sheridan, so this was the first that he had seen of the human observing Minbari custom. As Sheridan opened his eyes and licked his dried lips, thankful that he hadn't fallen asleep, which was his custom at such dinners, Dekhat addressed him.

   "I see that you honor our traditions, Sheridan."

   He turned a frank face to the warrior. "Yes. I've tried to honor all of Delenn's traditions."

   Dekhat turned his head toward his mother. <Did he submit to the sleep watching ritual?>

   She nodded, the sad memory of the start of that ritual still burned into her psyche.

   "Dekhat," John carefully interjected, hoping not to interrupt an important conversation, as he couldn't understand most of what had been asked, "do you know anything about a minbari warrior named Kahlell?"

   A look of surprise flashed across the warrior's face as he turned back to face Sheridan. "Yes," came the long, drawn-out reply, ending in a questioning tone. "How do you know the name?"

   "We have him in lock-up. He tried to gain access to a restricted area of the station. You wouldn't happen to know why he might want to do that, would you?"

   "No, I wouldn't," came the steel-faced reply.

   "Do you know, my son," interrupted Delenn, hoping to break the tension growing between the two men she most loved in the universe, "that there is a movement back home to seize control of the Federation?"

   Dekhat turned slowly from Sheridan back toward Delenn and responded. "I had heard some rumors . . ." The answer came in English. It was the first time he had spoken with his mother in Sheridan's language. This did not escape his notice.

   "Two of the four ships guarding this place have left without notice. We do not know why or to where, but I fear they may have been recalled to build a fighting force to aid in this civil war." Sheridan was being the diplomat and not getting involved in the discussion, even though it was clear that Dekhat wanted him to understand what was being said.

   "Most likely."

   "But why, Dekhat? We are so close to freeing the galaxy of the ancient enemy and all of the First Ones for good. Why now? Why destroy all that we have created?"

   "Because, mother, not everyone back home agrees with what you are doing. They don't all agree with what you have become and who you are . . ." He glanced toward Sheridan. ". . . associating with." Even though it took every ounce of control he had, Sheridan maintained a calm outward appearance and said nothing.

   "Do you feel this way, Dekhat?"

   "I . . . do not know. But I will know before I leave here."

   Delenn could sense that he was hiding something -- something very important. "Are you involved with these people, Dekhat?"

   He stared deep into her eyes and smiled slightly. "I am involved with everything back home, mother. I am the son of Dukhat. Many will do as I say and many more will follow my example."

   

   

   "I dunno," said a seated Zack Allan to his minbari visitor, "the Cap'n's been through a lot lately -- the death of his wife, the . . . thing at Z'Ha'Dum, the whole war, . . . the split from Earth. It's been tough on him, but he's always done the right thing, I think."

   None of those revelations surprised Dekhat; He'd known about Anna Sheridan, the Shadows, the supposed death and rebirth at Z'Ha'Dum, all of it. "Has he ever lied to you," he asked in his typically commanding voice.

   Zack looked a little surprised and thought for a moment. "I . . . I don't think so. He's kept some things from me, of course, but that's to be expected in our situation. But, if you mean has he ever out-and-out lied to me, then, no, he hasn't. He's been straight with me, and I respect that."

   "Good. That concludes my questions, Allan." He got up to leave as he continued. "I thank you for your time."

   Zack nodded and then appeared to remember something. "Oh, Dekhat, is it?"

   "Yes."

   "I was wondering if you could help me with a problem here with one of your people. I know it's a long shot, but his name is Kahlell. He's warrior caste, from what I can tell -- just like you." Dekhat continued to stand and stare, unchanging as if he were made of stone. "I know there are lots and lots of warrior caste minbari, and it's not likely you know this guy, but I need to get in touch with someone who can help me get some answers out of him, and your government has been giving me the cold shoulder."

   "I'm afraid I can't help you, Allan. If that's all, I must be going."

   Zack was a bit disappointed. "Yeah, that's all. Thanks."

   Dekhat gave a slight head bob, spun around and marched out of the security office as suddenly as he had arrived just twenty minutes earlier. Zack stared after him in amazement. He had never seen a minbari that exuded such power. He was almost oozing authority. "Well, take that back," he thought. "I have seen another minbari like that: Delenn."

    ----------

   Sheridan entered the Command and Control center and found Delenn sitting in his office chair. He walked up to her with a smile, formed by the memory of how he'd given Ivanova a hard time when she used his office without his permission. But this was Delenn. "You wanted to see me?"

   She looked up from the console she was viewing and smiled when she saw him. "Yes, John. I have requested that a portion of the White Star fleet come to help defend Babylon Five until we can straighten out this mess."

   Sheridan nodded. "Good. Good. When will they be here?"

   "Any moment, from what I understand."

   An alarm chirped at Station One and the officer manning the controls barked an announcement. "Jump gate activated. Eight ships, White Star class, coming through."

   Delenn and Sheridan turned their attention to the monitor which displayed the arriving ships. "Good," she said. "Now we can relax a bit." Sheridan nodded his agreement just as another alarm sounded at Station One.

   "Jump points forming! I've got . . . four distinct points, all around us."

   Sheridan looked surprised and then concerned. "What? Who are they?"

   "Working," came the reply. The technician accessed an identification program on his primary console and as the first ship appeared through its point, he reported his findings. "Minbari cruisers."

   Delenn was shocked. "Oh, hell," Sheridan muttered under his breath. "Get 'em on the link! I don't care how you do it."

   "Gun ports are open -- weapons powered-up -- their locking onto the Drakhat, the Roshalt, the White Stars . . . and US!"

   "Activate defense grid! Scramble all squadrons! Open a channel to those ships, I don't care if they acknowledge or not."

   "Channel open."

   "This is Captain John Sheridan, Babylon Five, to hostile ships. Power down your weapons at once. We're on the same side. Please don't do this. Nothing can be served by doing this . . ."

   "The lead ship is firing on the Drakhat," came the report from Station One. A thin green beam of hot plasma shot forth from the lead Minbari cruiser and sliced into the under prepared station defender, cutting off a large section from the front of the ship. The severed portion drifted slowly away from the bulk of the ship.

   "Get me Draal on the link, NOW," shouted Sheridan. "Working," came the reply.

   The Drakhat continued to drift, helpless, as the lead ship sliced more pieces from its form. Meanwhile, the other three attacking ships opened up with their guns as the White Stars and the Roshalt began to return fire. Two White Stars, managed to cripple one of the cruisers, as the Roshalt took a nasty hit to its drive section. One of the attacking ships completely destroyed a White Star just as the station fighters entered the attack, mixing it up with attacking minbari fighters.

   Suddenly, a large, bright and obviously powerful beam of energy rose from the surface of Epsilon Three and delicately carved-up one of the attacking cruisers. Then another. And then the last. Then the beam shut off.

   The battle continued until all the enemy fighters were crippled or destroyed. The station had lost five of its starfuries and the Roshalt's fighter strength was diminished by six. The four patrol fighters that had been outside the Drakhat were all destroyed. A surreal calm settled on the scene -- pieces of minbari and human technology drifting about. Some shots were still fired from fighters or station defenses as pieces drifted too close to the station for comfort.

   Inside command and control, Sheridan was drained. He stared down at the controls in front of him, barely breathing. Delenn was standing behind him -- her face reflecting the shock and devastation that filled her.

   "Minbari have killed minbari," she spoke, almost at a whisper.

    ----------

   Sheridan and Delenn were walking down a corridor, on their way to find Dekhat, when Sheridan's link chirped. "Sheridan, go."

   "Captain," came the voice of Doctor Lilian Hobbs, "you may want to come down to Medlab."

   "We're a little busy at the moment, Doctor."

   "It's Doctor Franklin; He's been injured. It's pretty bad, Captain."

   They looked at each other and Delenn took a deep breath. "Okay, we'll be right there. Sheridan out." He clicked off his link and took Delenn's arm as they changed direction. "We'll go check on him and then find your son." Delenn nodded.

   The corridors were very empty, save for the occasional station worker or soldier. But even they were rare now that the station had been emptied of nearly everyone. As they rounded a corner on their way to Medlab, they were stopped cold by the sight before them. Dekhat was standing in the middle of the corridor, his fighting staff fully extended and crossed over his chest. His face was grim and determined as he spoke.

   "I will know your honor, Sheridan." He tossed an object, an unextended fighting staff, toward Sheridan. It came to rest at his feet.

   Sheridan looked down at the object, then over at Delenn, who was pale with fright, and then back up to Dekhat. His initial expression of surprise had given way to a relaxed calm of certainty. "I will not fight you, Dekhat."

   "Then you are a coward and you have no honor."

   "I will not fight you because you have done nothing to harm me or the ones I care for. I don't fight just for the sake of the fight, Dekhat. I fight because I have to. I fight because it's right." He paused and shook his head. "No, Dekhat. I will not fight you. If you want to kill me, then go right ahead." Delenn turned toward him in shock. "I'm not afraid."

   Dekhat studied this man carefully, from head to toe and then back again. Then he looked upon his mother, standing next to him, obviously fearing for his life and unable to help him, for fear of violating this right of ritual. He lifted the staff and held it away from his body and then collapsed it and placed it into his pocket.

   Even though he wouldn't show it, Sheridan's heart was racing a mile a minute and he let out a long breath when the warrior backed down from his challenge. Delenn was less concealing. She closed her eyes and let out the breath she felt she had been holding throughout the entire incident. She turned her head to see her son, who was walking slowly toward them.

   When Dekhat reached Sheridan, he stopped, glanced from the human to his mother and back again, and then formed a triangle with his hands and bowed deeply. He then repeated the bow after turning slightly to face his mother. When he turned back to face Sheridan, he stuck out a hand. Sheridan glanced down and realized what the warrior wanted to do. He gulped and then reached out to complete the handshake. Dekhat's grip was firm, but so was Sheridan's.

   "I believe I know your honor now, Sheridan." He turned his head to look upon his mother. "And yours too, mother." Delenn smiled warmly at her son.

    ----------

   "As you know," Zack reported to Sheridan in the Captain's quarters, "Dekhat had some of his people come and pick up the prisoner. They said they'd deal with him." He smiled. "Ouch," he said with a soft chuckle.

   "He was one of Dekhat's men, but was acting on his own. He apparently wanted to kill Delenn and was willing to take out everyone else on board the station to do it. I'm confident that Dekhat will . . . deal with him for trying to kill Delenn."

   "So, anyway, how's Franklin," asked Zack.

   "He's gonna make it. He was trying to help get the last of the lurkers off-station when we were hit. Some heavy debris fell on him -- broke several bones and fractured his skull -- but he'll be all right -- so they tell me."

   Zack smiled. "Good to hear. I'll see ya later, Cap'n."

   "Bye, Zack."

   Zack left the room and Sheridan turned his attention back to the woman sitting at his kitchen counter. Delenn was deep in thought over the recent events. Sheridan could tell she was troubled, so he sat next to her and tried to help. "Penny for your thoughts."

   She was snapped out of her haze and lifted her head up to face him. "Hmm?"

   Sheridan chuckled. "It's just a silly human expression. It means, 'What are you thinking?'"

   "Oh, about everything." She turned her body slightly to better face him. "I'm afraid, John. I don't know what's happening on my own world anymore. And, is the station safe now?"

   "Draal has agreed to keep a channel connected to C and C at all times. If there's trouble, he'll handle it. I don't think they'll be back -- not as long as he's here."

   Delenn nodded. "Then I only have to worry about losing one world now," she sighed.

   Sheridan's smile faded and he too let out a sigh as they sat and pondered the horrible reality of a Minbari civil war.

   His door beeped. "Come," Sheridan commanded. The door opened and Dekhat entered.

   "I will be leaving soon, so I have come to say goodbye. And . . . to say . . . that I am sorry for the trouble I caused you, Captain -- and you, mother."

   Sheridan got up from his stool and moved to the proud minbari. "You don't need to apologize for carrying out one of your people's customs, Dekhat."

   "No, but I do need to apologize for coming to this place with the intention of stopping your joining with my mother. For that, there is no excuse. You have proven yourself an honorable man, and I will never forget that. And . . . I will not stand in the way of your marriage to my mother."

   Sheridan exhaled rapidly. "You don't know how much that means to me, Dekhat. I really appreciate it, because I really love your mother." He smiled at Delenn and she smiled back.

   Dekhat moved closer to his mother, who got up from her stool to meet him. He reached out to hold her arms, and she held him back. <And, mother, I just wanted to let you know . . . that I have always loved you and will always love you.>

   A tear slid down her cheek as she looked up into her son's eyes. She wrapped her arms around his frame and buried her face in his chest. Even though he could not see it, Sheridan knew that Dekhat was also crying tears of joy as he embraced her.

   Sheridan dared not interfere with this loving, tender embrace. Nor did he even want to make a sound or move, for fear of destroying the moment of perfect beauty. After a few minutes, they slipped apart and Delenn wiped the tears from Dekhat's face as she smiled at him.

   He turned around, the largest smile Sheridan had yet seen evident on his face, and spoke to Sheridan. "My mother is the most wonderful person in the universe, John Sheridan. I am giving you my blessing in this marriage, but it comes with a warning: If any harm should come to her -- if you should hurt her in any way, physically or emotionally -- I will find you and I WILL kill you." Sheridan gulped. Delenn smiled.

   "I swear to you, Dekhat, that I will honor and protect your mother with my life. No harm will come to her while I live and breathe." Delenn's smile faded momentarily with this declaration. She recalled all too well the price that would rob her of her new husband all too soon. But the smile soon returned. No thought, no matter how dire, would ruin this moment.

   Dekhat laughed. "Good, then." His smile disappeared. "And I have a promise to make to you two as well. This recent action, in which minbari killed minbari, was not done with my knowledge. But I will find those responsible and do all in my power to end it. They will know my mother's true face; I will teach it to them."

   He moved to the door and then turned back around on his heels.

   "Goodbye, mother. I wish you great joy and happiness in your life. And to you, . . . John, . . . Farewell."

 

*****

 

 

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