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Rangers Redux (fiction) - II


From the beginning, now. The only fanfic I've ever written. Only, uh, all edited and better, hopefully!


Sindell arrived obscenely early to the summit, a fact that seemed to disturb no one but the normally imperturbable Rathenn, who had been hunched over deployment plans in the security aerie for most of the morning. Rathenn - whose task it was to remember this sort of thing - found that he could not recall a single time when Sindell had been this early, or this eager, to attend an event that would inevitably end in the Centauri complaining, the Narns whining, the Earth Alliance throwing up their hands in denial, and the Drazi calling for some sort of military involvement.

It intrigued Rathenn.

He knew that Sindell, for being the spokesperson of an organization as devoted to progress as the Anla'shok appeared to be, was often stubbornly and immovably traditional - in fact, he had mentioned to Rathenn himself many times over that the day he went into the Senate chamber without undergoing the proper rituals was the day he could no longer call himself Minbari.

Rathenn peered at the display in the corner, which clearly showed Sindell, dressed in the grey-green robe of the Ranger Council, entering the chamber without a single lit candle, bow, or words said in soft Adronato.

Anyone else on Entil'zha's staff would have let it slide -- but for Rathenn, his master's departure from simple ritual was enough. He left the aerie to his deputies and set off across the east courtyard, questions on his mind.

In his younger years, Sindell could have hardly fathomed this thing that was unfolding before him -- this half-failure Interstellar Alliance, this flawed, unprecedented attempt at interspecies cooperation and mutual understanding, this grand, soaring Council Chamber that would soon be crawling with aliens of all stripes and species gabbing and bickering, conspiring against one another in Tuzanor's newest after-hours restaurant row, this almost-desecration of one of the continent's holiest cities.

But that man was dead.

Sindell-that-is banished the dreams of Sindell-that-was, reminded himself that the hopes of a younger man never went hand in hand with the reality of an older. His allegiance had changed; once to Lenonn, his mentor, master, and brother-in-arms, and now to Delenn, the Entil'zha, and to the human John Sheridan.

The aliens would stay. He would agree. He was Anla'shok, and it was his duty. He lived for the One.

Sindell-that-was would have never understood the need for the Interstellar Alliance. That man remained trapped within the gunnery pod of his old patrol ship, addicted to the dizzying expanse around him, hooked on the silence that used to be a Ranger's constant companion. Sindell-that-was had been a warrior, a listener, a guard against an ancient enemy too powerful to combat. Sindell-that-was had been Anla'shok.

Sindell-that-is was a ghost created by the victory at Coriana, where the bridge had been defended at the cost of tens of thousands of his brothers, his Rangers, his Anla'shok.

But now, he was waiting -- waiting for the summit to begin, waiting for his Entil'zha to arrive, waiting for confirmation that the mission had begun.

And that was the only thing Sindell the dead man and Sindell the living ghost had in common.

They waited for the ancient enemy.

They waited to be reborn.
Na'feel's first view of Minbar - helped along by feeding her last five credits into a payviewer in the bowels of an ancient, sputtering Brakiri refugee freighter - had taken her breath away. It hung in space, surrounded by the smooth, predatory lines of thousands of Sharlins and Whitestars, untouched by the bloody war that had torn her homeworld apart. It was Na'feel's last hope of amnesty -- her last hope of a future where she could do something like bring her years of experience running her father’s engine shop to good use.

So the pretty mechanic's daughter, a mass-driver survivor and unwilling murderess, arrived on Minbar with only the clothes on her back, fifteen credits, a hastily-scrawled piece of parchment with the name of a contact at the Tuzanor Anla'shok training facility, no knowledge of Adronato - and a copy of the book of G'kar.

If G’kar could change, so could Na’feel.

But she hated the whiteness. She hated the blueness. She hated the soft pastel inland seas and the tall, thin, soaring mountains with their cold snows and icy, stabbing spires. She hated the way the brilliant Minbari sun reflected on the crystalline towers, sending her into fits of near-blindness, and she hated the silent streets of Tuzanor and their artificial, triangular setup. She hated Tuzanor herself, where the only other aliens were Alliance delegates that saw her either as a savior of sorts -- the last, best hope for Ranger integration -- or a freakish, overgrown lizard who belonged anywhere but in the uniform of the Anla'shok.

For the sake of G'quan, she found herself muttering more than once a day. I'll never understand aliens.

G'kar had taught her tolerance through his words, but sometimes she just wanted to bring a torch to that irritating, omnipresent Minbari haughtiness. During her training, she hardly left the Ranger compound, as it was designed to be far more welcoming, far more universal, dark, and warm, she thought, then Tuzanor's wide, floodlit avenues. She found herself frequenting the close, dark confines of the engine rooms of Nials and assault-class vessels, the cold embrace of piping and wiring enveloping her.

Since her assignment to the
Liandra, she barely changed her usual pattern, preferring to stay in the engine room, wrench in hand. Mornings like this were almost unknown -- after nearly getting run over with nary an apology on the airfield by three worker-caste janitors on a cargo loader, she had spent an hour and a half, measured in Minbari time, attempting to convince the Regional Quartermaster's attendant that she was, indeed, qualified enough to service her very own fuel-injection system.

Na'feel wasn't usually the type that enjoyed wordplay, and although she got a sense of perverse pleasure by saying to herself, "we complain for the One, we haggle for the One," the excuses the front-desk Ranger were giving her as to why the system wasn't serviced on time were getting ridiculous. Keeping her voice carefully neutral, she informed the attendant that she'd return later and decided to take her chances with the rapidly moving cargo loaders on the airfield. As she pushed open the door, she felt eyes boring into her back; without even turning, she knew that the young worker-caste attendant had been staring at her.

That's right, sweetie, Na'feel thought. Stare at the ugly alien.

Slouching angrily back against the outside wall, Na'feel closed her eyes and listened, attempting to draw on some of her training to calm herself down. Drowning out the deathly silence of the Minbari afternoon was the clamor she loved - engines firing, tools clattering on the deck, somebody (a human, she supposed, as Minbari languages were curiously devoid of profanities) swearing.

And that's when the idea occurred to her about what exactly she could do to speed up the process.

I haven’t had a good fight in ages, she thought. I think it's about time.


As much as he hadn't wanted to admit it, Kitaro had been very glad of the peace and quiet afforded him by Na'feel's absence that morning. In the Liandra's cramped hallways, he ran - sometimes literally - into the Narn engineer at least five times a day, as she made her way to the quartermaster's, or the engine room, or the bridge, or back from the quartermaster's laden with engine coils.

It was at times like that, pinned up against the wall as a constantly fuming Narn raced down the corridor laden with tools Kitaro had never seen before, that the navigator swore he would never in his life understand the Narn penchant for adding vitriol to everything they did.

Daily dealings with an angry Narn aside, Kitaro walked the deck of the Liandra as if it was a dream that threatened to end at any time. He had not distinguished himself in training, nor had he accomplished anything flying in a non-combatant wing of Nials during the Centauri conflict. He had been about ready to space himself from boredom when Martel had invited him to pilot the Liandra.

Kitaro, who recieved the news while attempting a three-hundred-degree fate twist in a Meridian ion storm (in the simulator, although he made it a habit of not mentioning that small fact to women), took about three seconds to say "yes." He was even able to say it through the overwhelming disbelief that someone would actually consider him as a pilot suitable for an attack ship.

The Liandra wasn't exactly as advanced or as beautiful as a Whitestar, but it moved as gracefully as any Minbari vessel, banked and turned as easily as a fighter, and used an intuitive series of hand movements to control speed and vector. The Liandra also had the worst record of any Ranger vessel when it came to breaking down and falling apart, which meant that Na'feel spent more and more time running to Tirk for spare parts, which meant that Kitaro was subjected to her endless tirades for greater periods of time...

But, in the end, Kitaro was damned happy to be there.
By now, it had become David Martel's Tuesday-morning ritual while his haunted tin can of a ship was docked at Tuzanor: dawdle over coffee, read the morning dispatches, make sure he wasn't needed, and then head off to the training rooms to beat the living hell out of Sarah Cantrell, his weapons officer and longtime friend.

This particular Tuesday was no different.

During their fourth fight, he disabled Sarah with a left feint and subsequent quick stave-thrust to a vulnerable point on her right leg; she miscalculated his intentions, balancing on the wrong foot and catching the stave-end at the wrong angle. A moment later, she was airborne; a moment after that, she hit the mat with a muffled thump, a groan, and a nasty look shot in his general direction.

"Oh, that's just embarrassing," the weapons officer muttered, pushing herself up off the ground, one hand grasping the fallen stave.

"No," David responded, feeling rather pleased with himself. He worked to catch his breath. "You're just a little out of practice."

"Me, out of practice?" she said in an incredulous tone of voice, grinning at him wryly as she walked over to the side of the mat to pick up swig of a bottle of water. "You should watch it -- it didn't take you that long to beat me earlier. You're the one losing your touch," she finished, waving the bottle in his direction accusingly.

He snorted. "Yeah, well," he said, and paused for a moment, rubbing a smarting shoulder where she'd smacked him during their second fight with a stave-end. "That's what happens when I spend too much time in drydock, trading insults with bureaucrats."

Another swig; she capped the bottle, set it down, and smiled wryly at him. "You're the captain; it's your job. Want another go?"

His head twisted to take a hopeful look at the clock on the wall; he pursed his lips with annoyance, shook his head, and heaved a mock-tortured sigh. "No. I have a call to take from Mural -- speaking of insults -- right before the mission briefing; I'm gonna shower and head back to the ship."

Sarah winced in sympathy. "I'll be pulling for ya, sir. Try to resist the desire for homicide," she said.

"It'll be hard," he shot back, pulling on his shoes and heading towards the entrance; Sarah watched him for a while before heading out to the locker room, determined to bribe a trainee into sparring so she could be victorious in at least one fight that morning. I shouldn't worry so much, she thought. So, I lost again. But then -- what else did I expect? Everyone loses to David Martel.

David made it back to the Liandra just in time to take the call -- he'd been wedged into a group of Minbari schoolchildren on a tour of the Ranger training facility on a particularly slow elevator and had misjudged the amount of time it would take to cross the tarmac on foot -- and was greeted with a nod from Kitaro, a serious-faced Dulann, and the spit-shined boots attached to the feet of an engineering technician whose torso and head were dissappearing into a mainline access tube.

"Captain, Mural's on the line," Kitaro said, as if David had been there for hours. He'd barely sat down when the viewer sprang to life in the guise of the ever-sour Mural, executive aide to Councilor Sindell and, in the estimation of David, Dulann, and most of the Liandra's senior staff, a gaping, bleeding sore in the side of the Ranger establishment. A religious-caste Minbari, Mural resembled the pinched, batty, spying old woman who'd lived in the rat-infested apartment above him on Kalat.

"Good afternoon, Captain," Mural said, his voice wedged into the constant unpleasant timbre Dulann had grown so accustomed to. "I know you're scheduled to depart within the week. However, we need you to make some time for a larger matter. The summit has demanded an additional deposition from the crewmembers who were present and directly involved with the destruction of the Valen and of the colony on Beta Durani 7."

Martel leaned forward, regarding the councilor tiredly, his hands clasped before him on his keyboard. "My crew has already been debriefed -- we've said all there is to be said. Twice. Three times, in my case."

Mural's eyes narrowed. "I think I have to impress upon you the importance of this matter," he said. "If the summit believes there is missing testimony, I can't assure that the Rangers will be able to protect you."

"Yes, Mural," said Martel. He scratched the back of his neck, his eyes narrowing at the Minbari in the viewer.

"Please have your command crew report to the Executive Building this evening at seven, Captain. I am sending the rest of the details of your upcoming mission now. Please submit a confirmation after your first ship briefing. Thank you."

Mural disappeared; he’d cut the line at his end.


It was part of Malcolm's job description to continually be conscious of himself and the world around him. He noticed every detail, every scuffmark on the floor, every furtive glance, every single inflection of every voice. It was his task to keep situations in control. Control was required. Control was victory -- was life for the Anla'shok. Without it, chaos. Without it, defeat.

But it was only at moments like this, when he was paused at the door of the meditation room, staring down at the small figure kneeling in front of the Triary, that he felt what it was to be at the center of an uncontrollable fire -- out of control, out of his mind.

It felt like a cancer, a fluid festering in his arteries that spread from the dark place in his heart to reach the tips of his fingers and the capillaries in his eyes. He felt short of breath. Every sound, magnified, crashed in his ears like a breaking wave or the rising roar of the Liandra's engines at full speed.
I could never meditate like that, he thought, bringing up a hand to wipe a faint sheen of sweat from his chin. Such grace, such beauty.

That, there -- that was his sin, his one sin, and his one big lie.

"Firell," he said, hoarsely and softly, almost hoping he wouldn't break the healer's concentration.

With the unearthly grace that only Minbari had, she turned to face him, her fingers still templed together, barely touching. "Yes, Malcolm?"

"Mission briefing. Thought I'd find you here and -- and walk up to the bridge with you."

"Sit with me, Malcolm," the impassive Minbari responded, indicating an empty space next to her. She turned back to the Triary. "Sit with me for a moment."

"We should probably go." He edged away from the door, resting his hand on the wall to steady himself. He felt dizzy, for some reason, watching her. Frantic.

Firell hardly moved, save to bring her eyes back to the Triary on the wall. It glowed silver and white in the candlelight, tracing lines on his retinas, pushing forward to the dark places, the places where he stored his pre-Ranger memories. He’d first seen the symbol on Beta Colony, among the flames, the sulfur in his nose, the smoke coiling in his lungs. It was hanging around the neck of a medic, who had been speaking fast, quick Adronato to his comrades over his pain, the screams, and the unholy battle cries of the Shadows in his ears.

There had been Rangers at that theater on Beta Colony. That was how he had survived, during the attack: they had come to see the play. He had been Othello -- Othello, bleeding out quickly on the floor, with Iago dead -- truly dead -- at his feet.

Utterly uncomfortable in the face of the calm, straight-backed Firell, Malcolm pushed himself up against the doorway, crossed his arms, and attempted to crawl back into his own skin.

She has to be rattled by something, he thought. Something out there has to bother her. Something has to get underneath that porcelain skin of hers.

"You should come here for prayer with me, Malcolm," Firell said, standing and sliding on her jacket. "Before the next mission. It might do well for you."

He grinned ruefully. "I'm terrible at meditating the Triary."

Firell only smiled.

He sometimes hated how the Minbari smiled. They seemed to smile only with the sides of their mouths, lips pressed thinly to give the impression that they were constantly smirking -- that they were never going to tell you that about that grape juice spot on your dress uniform or the fact that you just sat in wet paint. Firell was exceptionally good at it.

"Which is a reason why you should come more often," she continued softly. "You shouldn't be frightened of the silence."

Malcolm started down the hallway, feeling his face begin to flush. "We're probably late."

"Most likely," she answered, and said nothing else, her face turned down. Malcolm stole a glance; she was not hiding her dissappointment.
Ranger Sarah Cantrell, Tactical Specialist/Ei Nali (Liandra) Rating: 6A Date: 62165 Kurali 18-89

Maddox | Thank you for coming, Ranger Cantrell.
Cantrell | It's no problem, sir.
Maddox | We're sorry to bring you out again at such a late date. You'll recognize this; it's a transcript of your debriefing from the mission to the colony on Beta Durani 7. Please read through the highlighted portions and tell the Council if anything has changed.
Cantrell | No - no, everything seems to be in order.
Maddox | Is there anything you'd like to add? You maintain that the enemy vessels were about eighty percent stronger than the Valen?
Cantrell | Ninety-eight, sir.
Maddox | The discrepancy is noted in the official record. Everything else is in order. All information, to your knowledge, is completely true. Is that right, Ranger Cantrell?
Cantrell | Yes, sir.
Maddox | Is that hesitancy, Ranger Cantrell?
Cantrell | I'm sorry, sir.
Maddox | Is there any missing information?
Cantrell | This is complete.
Maddox | Thank you. Let's move on. Why did you join the Rangers?
Cantrell | I believe it was because - I basically live to serve, and I serve to live.
Maddox | I believe what we mean was - the specific reason you joined the Rangers.
Cantrell | I'm sorry, sir, but that's personal.
Maddox | Noted. You live to serve and you serve to live. It seems to me to be a nice Minbari sentiment, Ranger Cantrell, but you're human - it leaves out quite a few things and raises many more questions.
Cantrell | I have always wanted to serve others. I believe in the Interstellar Alliance and I follow Entil'zha. Are you questioning my loyalty, sir?
Maddox | No, we aren't. You're doing fine.
Cantrell | Thank you.
Maddox | Take a look at your statement from the Beta Durani deposition. Make sure you still agree with everything you set forth on paper that day.
Cantrell | Yes. I do.
Maddox | Let's move on. Tell us about your Captain.
Cantrell | Well, he is a leader. He's very bright. Intelligent. He sees things in a different way than others in the Anla'shok.
Maddox | Can you be more specific?
Cantrell | David's world is not set in stone. It's not flat or - or even round. Sometimes, I think he comes at things from four dimensions. He's fast, he's smart, and he's the best commanding officer I have ever had. No question.
Maddox | Are you emotionally involved with your Captain?
Cantrell | I don't think that's anybody's business, actually.
Maddox | It's our business.
Cantrell | I am not emotionally involved with David Martel.
Maddox | Would you die for him?
Cantrell | I would die for the One.
Maddox | Answer the question, Ranger Cantrell.
Cantrell | I don't think this has anything to do with the mission to the colony, sir.
Maddox | That's more than you are allowed to know. Answer the question, please
Cantrell | Yes.
Maddox | I think we have everything we need, gentlemen. Thank you, Ranger Cantrell.

Ranger David Martel, Captain/Shok’na (Liandra) Rating: 8A Date: 62165 Kurali 18-89

Maddox | Good evening, Captain.
Martel | Good evening.
Maddox | Captain - and so young! Tell me, Captain Martel. You were never in Earthforce, correct?
Martel | That's right.
Maddox | And what did you do before you joined the Rangers?
Martel | I was a quantium-40 miner.
Maddox | A quantium-40 miner.
Martel | You sound surprised.
Maddox | I expected you to come from a military background, Captain.
Martel | No. Many of my crew came from civilian life. What you do before you come to the Anla'shok is not what matters.
Maddox | And so a Q-40 miner became a captain.
Martel | Yes.
Maddox | Earthforce would probably look on your quick promotion as inadvisable. They would say you weren't possibly experienced enough to command a ship. I'd say that they have a point.
Martel | I'd say that they don't understand the Minbari mind.
Maddox | They might question if *you* understand the Minbari mind, Captain, after your behavior on the Enfalli. Why did you decide to stand down and not pursue the enemy?
Martel | I felt that it was unnecessary to jeopardize the crew of the Enfalli.
Maddox | Please elaborate.
Martel | The mission objective had been achieved. The Enfalli and the Aladahi had destroyed the raiders' supply line and disabled their main base on the main moon of Callas 4. To fight to the death over twenty-five rogue fighters that had no dispatcher or command structure, nowhere to go, and Anla'shok waiting for them at every possible port seemed, frankly, a very stupid idea and not worth the lives of my crewmates.
Maddox | You were caught with your britches down.
Martel | No, I really don't think that's the right metaphor.
Maddox | But you weren't expecting those fighters.
Martel | We had bad intelligence.
Maddox | Bad intelligence.
Martel | It happens. Wasn’t our fault.
Maddox | The Enfalli is a Sharlin-type cruiser, isn't it?
Martel | Yes, it is.
Maddox | Wasn't it in use during the Earth-Minbari War?
Martel | Yes.
Maddox | Ships exactly like the Enfalli - maybe the Enfalli herself - pulverized entire outposts during the Earth-Minbari War. You expect this committee to believe your fish story about being outclassed by twenty small fighters?
Martel | Twenty-six small fighters. Have you ever been the target of an angry swarm of bees, Mr. Maddox?
Maddox | Can't say as I have.
Martel | It's impossible to win. No matter how coordinated you are, there's no way you can get rid of twenty-six angry bees without getting stung until you bleed. The raiders were not just angry and ready to sting. They were sentient. The bee, you see, doesn't know where to sting you. Raiders know. We lost weapons. We lost jump engines. We lost everything. We bled.
Maddox | And it was either die or retreat.
Martel | I'm prepared to die in combat. However, I am not prepared to waste my life when I can serve the One further by choosing to live instead of to die. I believe my crew would concur.
Maddox | What about your weapons officers - Yuri MacAllister and Sarah Cantrell? MacAllister was in the VR pod and Cantrell was running the secondary array from the bridge, correct? Could they have been the cause of the problem?
Martel | Yuri and Sarah are fine officers and performed to the best of their ability on this mission. There's no reason to bring them into this.
Maddox | It's a little late for that, Captain. Cantrell is a current member of the crew of the Liandra, yes?
Martel | She is my senior weapons officer.
Maddox | As are Malcolm Bridges and your first officer, Dulann, who were both on the Enfalli at the time of the incident in question - as were one healer's assistant, and two engine techs you requested to be assigned to your new command. Certain members of this committee have expressed concern that you might have ulterior motives in retaining former Enfalli crewmembers on the Liandra.
Martel | I resent that implication, sir.
{{static, 4 sec}}
Maddox | How do you feel about the charges of cowardice?
Martel | I would say that's a personal question.
Maddox | Humor me, if you would.
Martel | I'm here today because I have sworn to follow Entil'zha into the maw of hell and beyond. Death may be the price. If that's the sign of a coward, so be it.
Maddox | But doesn't it affect your ability as a Ranger?
Martel | We live for the One, we die for the One. Obviously, as a Ranger, I take that very seriously.
Maddox | All right, Captain. I know this has been rough, but -
Martel | - Not quite as rough as Beta Durani 7.
Maddox | - but we appreciate your cooperation.
(2-second pause; rustling)
Maddox | Thank you, Captain.
Martel | Yes, sir.

Ranger Dulann 3f Chu'domo, First Officer/Shok'nali (Liandra) Rating: 9C Date: 62165 Kurali 18-89

Maddox | Ranger Dulann. Welcome. I'm Grayson Maddox, Chairman of the IA Enforcement Oversight Committee. This is Cameron Proud, the Vice-Chairman. Thank you for coming today. I hope this meeting wasn't a problem.
Dulann | I am a Ranger. As such, duty will always be my first priority.
Maddox | And they say Minbari don't have a sense of humor. You say that with such a straight face, Dulann - may I call you Dulann?
Dulann | It is my name.
Maddox | You say that with such a straight face. Are you sure you wouldn't rather be somewhere else?
Dulann | Minbari do not lie.
Maddox | On my homeworld, Dulann, they usually finish that sentence with the words "...but instead hide the truth." We're worried that there might be some hidden truth among the logs, records, and debriefings of your last two missions - the final sojourn of the Enfalli, and your first on the Liandra. We just have a few questions. You are religious-caste, correct?
Dulann | I am of the third fane of Chu'domo.
Maddox | Interesting that a fane so devoted to peace should lend so many of their young men to an organization primarily concerned with war, isn't it? I understand that many of the warrior caste might be attracted to the Rangers, especially after the recent civil war and the atrocities of the past decade - but the religious caste?
Dulann | As the Chairman of the Enforcement Oversight Committee, sir, you should be quite aware that the mission of the Rangers is to assist in the development of peace.
Maddox | On my homeworld, men and women who swear a vow to defend their government and wander about the stars in tin cans loaded to the gills with weaponry are usually called a "military" and engage in something called "war." If the Rangers are not the military of the Interstellar Alliance, what are they?
Dulann | I see you have not spent much time studying the very thing you say you oversee.
Maddox | Please answer the question, Ranger Dulann.
Dulann | Minbar, as you may have noted, is not Earth. The Anla'shok were created by Valen to be the eyes and ears of those watching for the return of the Shadows. The Shadows are now gone, but our original mission remains. We are the eyes and the ears of the Interstellar Alliance. If necessary, we fight. If necessary, we die.
Maddox | You die for the Interstellar Alliance.
Dulann | We fight for the Interstellar Alliance, but we die for the One.
Maddox | Are all Minbari like this? Do you all speak in riddles and think in circles and sound bites and force-fed doctrine?
Dulann | If you are of the Anla'shok, you must, with your whole being, be ready to live or die for the One. It is your life. We cannot manufacture that belief. We cannot force-feed that belief to our trainees. A Ranger comes to that belief on his own time and embraces it on his own volition. If there is not purity behind that belief, you should not be a Ranger.
Maddox | And is it hard for non-Minbari to, as you in the Anla'shok say, "come to Valen?"
Dulann | Not that I have seen.
Maddox | Was it hard for David Martel? We know the two of you are close.
Dulann | Everything David Martel has done in service to the Anla'shok has reflected his deep desire to serve Entil'zha and to further the peace of the Interstellar Alliance. He has no personal agenda, if that is what you are asking.
Maddox | Including turning his tail and running like a coward to preserve his own life. I'd call that a personal agenda.
Dulann | That assumption is unfair, sir.
Maddox | Oh?
Dulann | Captain Martel aimed only to preserve the lives of the crew of the Enfalli. He does not think of himself.
Maddox | He's human. All we do is think about ourselves. The old survival instinct and all that.
Dulann | Then you do not know David Martel.
Maddox | You speak very highly of him.
Dulann | With good reason.
Maddox | Which brings me to your - truth, is it? Your driving mantra, your principle through which the other Rangers begin to know who you are and where you stand? What is it - "my life for the Shok'na?" Forgive my halting comprehension of Adronato, but Shok'na refers only to your Captain - and not Entil'zha Delenn or this proverbial "One?"
Dulann | You are correct.
Maddox | So you'd die for him. What happened to dying for the One?
Dulann | I live for the One. I die for the One. We have stated this. I will also die for David Martel.
Maddox | What is it about him, Dulann? Why do you - and your shipmates - put your lives on the line for him? Is he the Second Coming, or the Buddha reborn - ? Last time I looked, this kind of single-minded devotion was considered quite dangerous by my culture, and cost Earth dearly during our late Civil War. Are you simply the leader of David Martel's cult of personality?
Dulann | My commitment to David stems from our long history as friends and as part of the Anla'shok. I respect him. I apologize if this does not feed your lust for, as humans put it, "dirt," but it is the truth.
Maddox | Minbari humor again. All right, Dulann. I believe you speak the truth and we'll leave it there.

Ranger Malcolm Bridges, Intelligence/Su’nur (Liandra) Rating: 6A Date: 62165 Kurali 18-89

Maddox | Good evening, Mr. Bridges. This is Mr. Proud, and I'm Grayson Maddox. I trust this interview wasn't too much of an imposition on your impending mission countdown?
Bridges | Not at all, sir.
Maddox | Good - let's get down to it, then. You were on the bridge of the Enfalli when Captain Martel made the decision to stand down?
Bridges | Yes.
Maddox | For the entire battle?
Bridges | No - I was below, helping the repair crew get the secondary life support systems running.
Maddox | But you saw the decision.
Bridges | Yes, I did. I was there for the - for the last part of the battle. There were so many of them. There was nothing we could have done.
Maddox | Captain Martel gave the order to stand down - for whom? For himself?
Bridges | No, sir.
Maddox | For you? For Dulann? For Sarah Cantrell?
Bridges | For all of us, sir. Everyone on the Enfalli.
Maddox | I'm sure you didn't want to die.
Bridges | I am prepared to die for the One.
Maddox | Well, that sounds like a canned answer, Mr. Bridges, if I've ever heard one. Can you give me something that doesn't sound like you've just graduated from the Anla'shok Sunday School?
Bridges | If I can further the cause of peace by my own death, then I'm happy. The One desires nothing but peace. I desire nothing but peace.
Maddox | You aren't happy.
Bridges | Beg pardon?
Maddox | I said, you aren't happy, are you, Ranger Bridges?
Bridges | I don't see what this has to do with the incident on the Enfalli, sir.
Maddox | I'm going to guess that you weren't entirely happy with Captain Martel's decision, Ranger. You hoped that you would die.
Bridges | I choose not to answer that question.
Maddox | You wanted to die for the One. And yet, here you are. Do you trust Captain Martel, Mr. Bridges?
Bridges | With my life.
Maddox | Yes. So say your shipmates.
Bridges | We all agree on this.
Maddox | What did you do before you became part of the Anla'shok?
Bridges | I was an actor, sir.
Maddox | An actor! On Beta Colony?
Bridges | Shakespeare. Stage productions, mostly.
Maddox | Well, that's interesting. You must have had an interesting journey from the stage to the covert operations corps, then.
Bridges | ...Yes.
Maddox | Sounds like it was good preparation.
Bridges | Covert ops isn't like acting, sir.
Maddox | Really. I think it is. The audience is just different and the costume is easier to put on.
Bridges | Lives don't ride on the fact that you're in "Twelfth Night," Mr. Maddox.
Maddox | Right... do you know what your shipmates did before they joined the Anla'shok?
Bridges | That isn't important.
Maddox | It's very important to me. Do you know?
Bridges | Sarah did something on Mars. I don’t know. Firell was religious caste medical corps, did a lot of field medicine during the civil war, and was on Nesma during that attack. I've never asked about the others.
Maddox | Would you be interested to know what Captain Martel did before the Shadow War?
Bridges | Not necessarily, sir.
Maddox | He was a quantium-40 miner.
Bridges | Oh.
Maddox | You're not concerned?
Bridges | No, sir.
Maddox | Not in the least bit? He worked as part of Nixiam Industries' front-line team. For five years straight, he had constant contact with unrefined quantium-40.
Bridges | But that's illegal, sir. One year is far too long to be exposed to Q-40 without adequate recovery time.
Maddox | I thought covert ops personnel were recruited for the easy way they're able to detect a lie, Mr. Bridges.
Bridges | What?
Maddox | I mean - the lies, Ranger. I mean Nixiam Industries and Carroll-Fanning and Madgadel. Rotating the underground front-line teams is costly and time-consuming in both transit costs and training costs. Men like your Captain were put below and forced to work for months straight in the darkness, exposed with only minimal protection to the maddening effects of unrefined quantium-40. Tell me you're not in the least bit concerned.
Bridges | What are you saying, sir?
Maddox | I am saying nothing. I'm simply letting you know some facts that, as the covert operations officer, you should be aware of.
Bridges | The Anla'shok would never have let him enlist if he were suffering from quantium mania.
Maddox | Are you absolutely sure?
Bridges | Pardon, sir?
Maddox | Think, man! Think! At the height of the Shadow War, death had become the Rangers' greatest assurance. Why are the eldest Rangers so young? The Minbari that had served under Anla'shok Na Lenonn were consumed by Shadow-fire under the erroneous command of your very own Entil'zha! They weren't about to sort through those who sought to enlist! Before Sinclair was killed, he took them all into the fold - as he took a raving, delirious David Martel. You remember the Shadow War.
Bridges | ...yes. I do.
Maddox | The early days, Ranger Bridges. The early, desperate days. Choose not to believe me, then, to your own detriment. But do one thing for me when you return to the Liandra. Check with your healer.
Bridges | I already know she certified him completely fit for command.
Maddox | Really.
Bridges | It's in the files.
Maddox | Can you be more naive, man? How long has Ranger Firell been on the Liandra?
Bridges | Seven months.
Maddox | And how long have you known her?
Bridges | Two years, sir.
Maddox | This is her first assignment in the Anla'shok?
Bridges | Yes, sir.
Maddox | Who brought her aboard?
Bridges | Martel did, sir. Oh, God. You’re not saying she might have --
Maddox | Now you're seeing it, Ranger.
Bridges | This was her first assignment. No Minbari command wanted her because of her role in the Civil War.
Maddox | Are you seeing it?
Bridges | Shit. Shit!
Maddox | Yes, Ranger. Another one that's betrayed your trust.

From Gus Morgan Laverty’s seminal work, Renaissance: A History of Anla’shok Reform, 2265-2290

No one denied, when the deaths were finally tallied, that it was the Anla'shok that suffered the most from Shadow War losses. The exponential growth that occurred between 2257 and 2259 under Entil’zha Sinclair provided the Rangers for the most part not with experienced fighters, but with eager young Earthers and Minbari who may or may not have had a military background. These completely green recruits were put through the Anla'shok version of a 'crash course' in Minbari belief and Ranger fighting technique and sent out with older, more experienced Minbari men and women at the helm - a good number of whom were active Rangers under Anla’shok Na Lenonn during the Earth-Minbari War.

Even though a cooperative venture with the Minbari religious caste and Anla’shok engineers produced 124 top-of-the-line Whitestar-class vessels, at the end of the Shadow War the Anla'shok had lost most of its real assets: the experienced field officers. Most of these deaths occurred in the battles for Sector 83, the Dengarda Cluster, and the mining planet Nesma. It was predicted amongst nations belonging to the League of Non-Aligned Worlds and in the higher ranks of the Clark regime that the Rangers would not be able to stand against the Shadows at the final curtain.

Even though they met the challenge handily, by the time the Shadows had been driven out of known space, the Rangers -- while nowhere near braindeath -- were sorely limping. Stories like that of the Enfalli became common in the waning days of the Shadow War: ships left port with a full complement and older commanding officers, and limped back to Tuzanor after the fighting was over, bodies piled up in the hallways, the ranking officer a third-rank weapons tech.

Had it not been for the Shadow War -- or had he been enlisted in a more traditional military -- David Martel would have been no more than, perhaps, another fighter pilot, or, perhaps, an Earthforce lieutenant corporal. As it was, five years after the end of the Shadow War, Martel and men like him were ascending to captaincies and positions of influence. He received command of the attack ship Liandra -- a 20-year-old vessel whose repair record was so bad any other normal military would have given it over for scrap parts years ago were its services not desperately needed.

It is important to know that Martel was not a prodigy, nor the Rangers' favored son -- he was an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation, as were the rest of those serving on the Liandra, a crew which included such now-historical names as Sarah Cantrell and Dulann of Chu'domo.

There are those historians who do not like to point the finger at Martel, and criticize me for calling him the father of the modern Anla'shok, preferring to give that title to Jeffrey Sinclair. But Sinclair stepped in while the Rangers were still operating under the edict of Valen, and disappeared before the end of the Shadow War. He did not know and could not know about the reforms that would come after the war’s end.
Although I do not believe that Martel was the only one who felt the way he did, I do believe that he was the only one who could have, at that point in time, achieved what he achieved.
Death and uselessness. And back to death. Always back to death.

Hours later, after his interrogation, David stood in front of the glass where he stood before every mission, and everything he had earned as a Ranger melted from him.

He liked to think that he had no past, except for this dead time a few days before liftoff, when he reached forward, touched the thin barrier between his heart and the cemetery, feeling her presence in the cool brightness underneath his fingers.

He remembered the work, with Maria and the others, unlocking the glistening quantium-40 from the planet’s underbelly, always covered in grime and desperation. On Nesma and Sirkmorg, always with Maria, the days always the same, forgetting the stars existed, breathing into damaged lungs the toxic fumes snaking through porous crevices and forgotten caverns. The neverending darkness. The confining, tomb-like death of the interior mining caverns, and Maria.

Standing here, he had no rank, he had no ship, he had no future.

He remembered the desperate days of the Earth-Minbari war, in the bilges of a transport vessel, scrubbing decks for pennies and passage, a lost and bleeding child looking into the death-eyes of Minbari bloodlust.

“David,” said Maria, from behind him.

He whirled; no, not Maria.

“We need to talk,” said his weapons officer, stepping up beside him. Standing with her back to the wall, Sarah was a black hole against the impossibly white Minbari excuse for wallpaper, the light from a wall-sconce hitting the curve of her shoulder and the collar of her uniform. She was looking at him from just across the small viewing gallery, her eyes as unreadable as ever. They flickered to the glass, where a small box hovered before Martel’s fingers.

“They asked me about you,” she said, without waiting for him to answer. “They were very interested to know what I thought of your leadership abilities. Personal qualities.”

Martel snorted. He dropped his fingers from the glass; the box was spirited back into the darkness behind it. “Like what? The fact that I ate flarn on the bridge last week during systems refit?”

“That’s against regulation, and you know it,” she replied, laughing a little. There was an uncomfortable moment in which Sarah shifted, turned towards the glass, and slid her hands into her pockets. “No,” she continued, in a voice that barely echoed the laughter of a moment before.

Ice formed in his stomach.
Oh, shit, he thought.

“Well, don’t keep me in suspense,” he said, lamely.

She paused, rocked back on her heels, and instantly returned to the casual mannerisms of the Sarah Cantrell he was used to. Behind them, the vast Ranger graveyard -- a room full of silver and white boxes, stacked high in an ornate, crystalline matrix -- spilled out before them, behind the viewing glass that seperated the gallery from the sacred space. “Well, for one,” she mentioned, “they seemed quite interested in whether you were, well, fit for command. Mentally.”

“Hell,” Martel said.

“I don’t know what they think is going on up at the Liandra,” she said, shrugging. “It’s just ludicrous.”

Martel bit his lip for a moment, and then turned back to the glass. “What else?”

Cantrell paused diplomatically. “They seemed interested to know how far I’d go to protect you. And whether we were -- uh, close.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he blurted, lifting a hand to his head. Was that a headache coming on? A migraine? Blast that -- he’d better go to Firell to get checked out for a brain hemorrhage. “What kind of ship do they think I run, a Centauri cruise liner?”

Sarah shifted uncomfortably and muttered a slightly disinterested phrase of affirmation. David grumbled to himself, not responding to her -- instead, leaning forward on the railing, staring back into the graveyard.

“What’d they ask you?” she inquired, coming up next to him, placing her hands on the railing.

“Enfalli. Again,” he said. “Cowardice. Again. Nothing new.”

“Dulann’s in now,” she said.

“Hate to think what they’re asking him.”

“He can handle it,” Sarah said, her voice lending a questioning tone to the statement. “He’s a big boy.” She paused. “You’re nervous,” she said, amused.

“Of course not,” he replied, cracking his first smile of the evening.

“You’re nervous,” she pressed, grinning. “David, you’re not getting canned. You have G’Kar’s say-so.”

“G’Kar,” he responded, shaking his head. “That’s the trick. I’ve gotta prove him right -- doing what? Sitting around on my butt all day?”

His weapons officer shrugged, an innocent look on her face. “Taxi service for Drazi ambassadors with skinflake. You’re not getting canned. Our stories check out. We’ve got nothing to hide. And you know we’re always behind you, David.”

He pushed himself from the railing, casting one last glance at the cemetery before turning on one heel to exit the gallery. Goodbye, Maria, he thought. “They won’t ask Dulann -- or Malcolm -- or whoever -- if we're having an affair in the weapons pod. Jeez,” he said wryly -- hoping his words masked the twinge of sadness he felt -- he always felt -- upon exiting.

She followed, and her voice moved into a more serious tone in the space of a heartbeat. “They may not, but they will use your friendship with the crew against you, if they can.”

He pushed open the door to the long, white hallway, snorting again. “Great," he said. "Just great."
The main Anla'shok facility at Tuzanor was an architectural mess. A mish-mash of baby-blue crystal towers melded with the darker, sensibly-green buildings of the post-war period. The original building had long been swallowed in the ballooning need for renovation and the human craving for expansion. Half of the compound had burned during the Civil War, and the designers had left a section in ruins as a "memorial," while nearby workers currently were engaged in completing the new additions Entil'zha had commissioned for the expansion of Ranger membership to other races. Everywhere, a new architectural masterpiece touched the sky -- everywhere, post-war utilitarianism touched the old crystal innocence that had once characterized the holdings before Sinclair.

Inside, it wasn't much better. In many cases, different buildings from different ages had been melded together with little regard for interior decoration, and the result was a color scheme that, in some cases, approached schizophrenia.

David and Sarah passed from one building to another, from subdued sage carpeting to a riot of tile and color -- the living area for Rangers who called no ship home and instead worked a desk or taught trainees the art of war. Double doors on the left led to one of the complex's numerous mess halls. Outside them were gathered a gaggle of Minbari, among the throng Mural, who quieted quickly once he saw the two turn the corner; the aide, wiry, nasal, and dressed in the nearly-formal robes that were almost foreign to the sensibilities of active-duty Rangers, flagged them down.

"Good evening, Captain," the ratlike Minbari said, folding his hands in front of him. "I thought you'd still be in -- debriefing right now."

Eyes in the group fixed themselves on the two men; David, uncomfortable, shrugged. "It's over," he said. "Now, if you'll excuse me." He stepped to the side, aiming to exit into a side hallway leading to the tarmac area.

He wasn't used to being notorious. Before the incident on the Enfalli, he was considered a promising young officer, fairly popular and well-known to the point where Rangers he didn't know hailed him by name in the hallway. The Council had had his name on the short list, and the Valen would have been his hadn't -- no. No matter what the Council said, no matter if he had been cleared or given the blessing of the godlike G'Kar, or even if he had been anointed in the temple by Entil'zha herself, among their ranks the Rangers remembered the Enfalli.

And they did not remember fondly. The eyes were not approving. They spoke, wordlessly, of cowardice.

As David moved away, Mural spoke carefully.

"We," he said, indicating the similarly-garbed Minbari around him -- "were just inquisitive as to why you even came to Tannier's death celebration."

Martel turned. "Stuck in that office of yours, Mural, you might not know of the human custom of paying one's respects to the honored dead."

A hum of voices from the crowd. Low Adronato swear words. They knew of the rivalry between Mural and Martel; they knew that the dry tinder between them wanted only a spark.

"The Rangers have no place for human customs," spat Mural, his face growing more sour than your average lemon. "We have no place for cowardice, which is the most human of customs."

At this point, Cantrell stepped forward, as she, Martel noted, was wont to do at such times. He could see the anger in her eyes -- and, while that was a very good thing in the weapons pod, he'd recieved a black eye the last time he'd attempted to extricate Sarah from a bar brawl. And Mural, for all the desk-work he did, remained an excellent fighter. "Let it go, Mural. The past is the past." She glanced up at David. "C'mon, we have the new weapons matrix to install. It'll take all night."

A group of humans who had just exited from the mess hall -- dressed in active-duty black -- caught Sarah's sentence and hooted lewdly; they dissappeared in the other direction.

"The past?" Mural said, softly, a glint in his eyes. "You should have no memories past that day on the Enfalli, Cantrell. You or your captain. That was your time to die. The One called you to service. And yet, you walk, you breathe, and Tannier is lost."

Martel spread his hands in a shrug. "I should get back to my ship, Mural," he said, indicating the direction in which he was going; dealing with an irrational Minbari was not exactly his idea of a good time.

"Your ship," spat Mural. "Your ship is a dung-heap, and your crew unworthy to be called Anla'shok. What are you waiting for? Go. Maybe you'll actually get it flying, which would be a miracle worthy of Valen himself."

He swept away down the sage-green corridor, taking a good amount of the crowd on his coat-tails. The rest of the crowd, having seen the altercation and sated by their share of conflict for the day, dissappeared into the mess hall; behind him, revealed by the dispersing crowd, was a troubled-looking Malcolm Bridges, staring at them.

"I'm a fucking albatross," he said, looking between the two.

Sarah's jaw softened. "No, you're not. Listen. I'll -- I'll run ahead and help Na'feel; no use wasting time yammering in the hallway. See you two later." She took off towards the tarmac as Malcolm calmly approached him.

"Sir," said Malcolm -- who was always a little more formal than the rest, despite having served a few tours of duty with David and Sarah -- "I'm fairly sure that was considered improper conduct." His eyes moved back to the space which Mural had polluted not a minute before.

Martel's response was a desultory shrug. "Yeah, well. Public opinion's harsh. I'm more interested in what you were just asked. It can't be worse than what they just put Sarah through."

Malcolm's eyes flickered, and a vaguely troubled look passed over his face for a moment -- which was all he would allow Martel to see. Inside, his stomach tightened, and a terrible nausea shot up into the back of his throat to join the bitterness there. "They asked about you," he answered, keeping his voice level.

The captain sighed and began to walk in the general direction of the tarmac. "Specifics, Malcolm," he responded, rubbing overtired eyes. "Stop squirming -- I can take it."

Malcolm nodded. "They were very interested in your command ability. What makes you tick as a captain. Whether you were -- fit for command, even."

"Great," said Martel. The headache flared. "They're attempting to psychoanalyze me through my covert ops officer."

"I wouldn't say that," Malcolm countered. "It was the little things that worried them. Like your temper."

"Ah," said Martel, flashing his crewman a smile. "So now they want to beat my only redeeming quality out of my insolent hide?"

"Most likely, sir," said Malcolm, quietly.

Martel passed the rest of the walk in thought; Malcolm, a few steps behind, felt himself slipping, found himself checking the back of Martel's neck for the telltale recursive spotting and his hand for the almost imperceptible shaking that followed extended quantium mania.

He saw nothing.

And that worried him even more.
Upon returning to the Liandra, Malcolm changed his shirt, threw some water on his face, and set off to find Firell.

He knew there were only three places she could possibly be; the quiet Minbari healer was intensely private, devoutly religious, and completely devoted to her work and to the exigencies of . When she wasn't asleep in a barracks adjoining the infirmary, she was in scrubs, taking care of injured Rangers or tending whatever experiment bubbled in the adjoining lab -- and when she wasn't directly tending the body, she was tending the soul, cross-legged and ramrod-straight, in the ship's small chapel.

Malcolm paused at the door to the chapel only minutes after mounting his search. She was there, in the midst of open-handed meditation. He wrestled down a familiar fear and went to join her.

As he sat, he noticed her porcelain face shift slightly; as though woken from a beautiful dream, her eyes opened a few seconds later and she regarded Malcolm with a mixture of curiosity and welcome. She reached out to take his hand, and he allowed her to, attempting to sublimate the strange, clammy-smooth feeling that he expected from contact with inhuman skin.

"You came," she said, earnestly.

"Not to meditate," he responded. Dissappointment crossed Firell's features, and she looked down, releasing his hand. "I need to ask you something -- something important."

She smiled, her lips turning up in a querolous fashion. "Mmm?"

"You knew, didn't you?"

Firell's features flickered from questioning to blank; she looked once at the Triary, as if mentally sorting memories. When she looked back at him, it was with distinct concern.

"I know many things," she said, searching for an answer.

"About the Captain," he continue. The words hurt; he rested his hand on his knee.

"The Captain?" she asked.

The words opened his mouth on their own volition, spewing out before he could control them. "What he was before the Rangers."

Firell's eyes shifted -- she began to stare him down quite seriously. "What did you come here to ask me, Malcolm?"

A pause from the intelligence officer; he heaved a sigh and returned her serious look. "Quantium mania. I need to know if he has exhibited symptoms, at any point since he became a Ranger, of quantium mania."

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