Lennier helped her into the small ablution room off her bedroom, then stood somewhat nervously, apparently unsure of what she wanted of him next. Delenn clutched her robe tightly around her, the hood so low that she could see only the floor, and her feet, just as ugly as her hands. Dr. Franklin remained in the front section of her quarters; the last she had seen of him, he was perched awkwardly on the edge of a chair, medkit at his feet, muttering something into the link on his hand.
Lennier had called the doctor down immediately upon finding Delenn, and she had been too tired to care. Franklin had wanted to take her up to Medlab right away, begin a full examination, but she wouldn’t allow it. Not yet, not until she could look at herself first.
“Thank you, Lennier.” The voice was still more a croak than a voice; she hadn’t spoken in over two weeks. She looked at her feet, and didn’t see the plaintive look on Lennier’s face as he backed out of the room, sliding the door shut as he went.
Delenn untied the robe, let it drop from her shoulders, but at the last second turned away from the mirror, unable to confront her reflection. Franklin had done something to her forearm; she had felt a peculiar pressure and then a cool, damp feeling - he had asked her if it was supposed to do that, and she’d had no idea what he’d meant. She was afraid to look at her arm, afraid that she was injured, afraid that she now looked even worse. She kept her eyes trained on the wall, stepped into the bathing stall. She had told Lennier and Franklin that she only wanted a moment to herself, a moment to see what she had become before she left the relative safety and security of her quarters. She guessed that Franklin would not want her to wash herself, that the Minbari chemicals might be terribly harmful to her new skin, and that if he knew her intentions he would have taken her to Medlab against her wishes, by force if need be. But Delenn felt dirty, fouled in some way she could not yet articulate to herself. She opened the valve to let the cleanser drip down over her, and at first thought the mechanism was blocked in some way, because she didn’t feel the first steady drips on the top of her head. She reached up and touched the dispenser, and her fingers came away wet. She rubbed her thumb across the tips of her fingers, and saw the dark scales move.
Delenn’s breath caught, and she pushed one of the scales aside, too astonished to be horrified. Instead of exposed flesh or pulsing blood, she saw only pink, healthy skin.
Pink skin, not the cool, creamy white skin of the Minbari. She grappled with that thought only a heartbeat before she realized that the cleanser had begun to cover her, dripping down her arms and legs. She slid her hands over herself, and the scales fell away, and she stared amazed at the sudden beauty of her slender body, the skin so perfect and smooth, brand new. She opened the second valve, to rinse herself in cool water, and again the troubling sensation. Or lack of sensation, to be more accurate. She could not feel the water on the top of her head, not as she should; it was as though the feeling had been muffled somehow.
Delenn stepped out of the stall, a towel to dry off the remaining beads of water, and then she caught sight of herself in the mirror. There was a feeling in her stomach, the feeling she always had just before entering a jump gate, a feeling of there-but-not-there, and as she slowly brought up her hand to feel the dark brown hair falling around her face, she felt the feeling move up to her heart, her throat.
The hair was curiously soft. She had never touched human hair before, and had expected it to feel more like the bristles of an animal, sharp and prickly, but this was like silk against her sensitive fingertips. Delenn ran her fingers through it again and again, the feeling of the individual hairs tugging against the remnants of her bone crest so completely and totally foreign to her that for the first time the reality of her transformation came home to her.
“Delenn? Are you all right?” Lennier’s voice through the door, but Delenn didn’t hear it. She stared at herself, the crest encircling her head like a crown, the thick hair above and below it. The door opened, and Delenn might have laughed at Lennier’s face, his eyes comically large as he took in the sight of her naked body, the frantic way he dove for her robe and hurriedly wrapped it around her, his sputtering apologies, but she didn’t see him. She didn’t see Franklin as he came up behind them both, didn’t see him drop the device in his hand, didn’t hear his almost reverent “My God” as he stared at her reflection.
A moment of shared wonder, then they left her again. She opened her robe to look at herself more fully, but her body looked essentially unchanged, as far as she could tell. No hair anywhere but the top of her head, and she let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding. She tied the robe, then leaned forward to study her face more clearly. At first she had thought the smaller bone crest and the hair were the only changes, but now she could see subtle differences here and there - her brow ridge was smoother, less defined. And the bridge of her nose was narrower, almost slim. Delenn didn’t like it; now her nose looked unanchored somehow, as though it might just fall off. At least she didn’t have eyebrows, those silly little patches of hair that served no purpose that she could discern. But she leaned closer, something about her eyes…
Hairs. Growing just above and below her eyes, so close that at first Delenn thought they actually were growing out of her eyes. She drew back, disgusted, and fled away from the mirror.
Lennier and Franklin stood in the threshold of her bedroom, and Lennier stepped up as soon as she left the ablution room. Hovered around her, and she knew he only wanted to help her in any way he could, but Delenn was suddenly seized by a wave of irritation so strong she feared she might lash out. She swallowed the emotion instead, disconcerted that she had felt something like that about Lennier in the first place.
“I would like to dress, please.” She opened her closet, filled with thick padded robes, pulled out the first set she saw. Saw that Lennier had pulled her frosted doors closed, that she had privacy enough. She pulled the robes on, each layer another barrier between her and the world, and as she pinned on her brooch, she felt more like herself, centered, the universe around her shifting back to its rightful place. From the back of her closet Delenn pulled out a thin, white silk robe, one she hadn’t worn in at least ten cycles, since she had last attended the Ritual of Planetary Renewal. She couldn’t remember now why she had bothered to bring it with her to Babylon 5, considering how little space she had in her quarters, but it was perfect for her purpose now.
Delenn snapped the robe shut and pulled the hood over her head as she walked back into the main room. She pulled her hair to one side - again that strange sensation as it pulled against her bone crest, an almost pleasant sensation that sent a vague tingle along the back of her head and down her neck. Franklin still stared at her, a slight smile on his lips, very different from the look on Lennier’s face - she could tell he was doing his best to appear supportive, positive, but she could tell that it was just a mask, that underneath he was worried, even dismayed.
“Ambassador, I’ve already arranged to have a private room for you up in Medlab,” Franklin said, moving toward the door. “I’d like to keep you overnight - I don’t expect there to be anything serious, but, well, you certainly present a unique case. We have no frame of reference.” Delenn turned a brittle smile his way. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, Dr. Franklin, but I have more urgent matters to which I must attend.” She turned to her aide. “Lennier, please arrange for a meeting with Commander Sinclair. As soon as his schedule permits.”
She watched an ominous look pass between the two men, and then there was a long beat of awkward silence that continued to draw out long past when she would have expected an answer. “Lennier, what is it?” He turned to her, and she could tell that he did not want to speak, and a cold frisson of fear sparked through her stomach.
“Sinclair is no longer posted to Babylon 5.”
At first Delenn literally could not understand his words. Every now and then she would find herself at a loss with the English language, but it usually happened when humans used their strange idioms and metaphors, or when the command staff fell into jargon and acronyms. At times like that, she would find herself hearing only the individual sounds of each syllable, and would sometimes lose the thread of the conversation as she tried to parse the meaning from what she’d heard. She ran Lennier’s words through her mind again, and could not make herself face what she already knew was the truth.
“He is not on the station now? When will he return?” The looks on both their faces angered her, the syrupy pity she saw there, the condescension. “Lennier. Answer me.”
“Sinclair has been named the first human Ambassador to Minbar. He departed several days after you entered the Chrysalis. Captain John Sheridan is the new military governor of Babylon 5.”
Delenn closed her eyes. Her hands came up to her brooch, and she tried to reclaim that centered feeling she’d had only minutes ago, what now felt like days and days ago. But everything was wrong, all of her plans laid to waste, the most important plan of all now fouled nearly beyond hope of completion. And she could not go back.
She was tired, oh, so tired. She had emerged from the Chrysalis spent, her energy and reserves devoted to her change, and the hours since had seen her swing from one emotional extreme to another. She would give anything to just lock her door, set the Babcom to record, and sleep, sleep until she no longer remembered her plans, which now seemed so absurd, so steeped in pride.
“Then please arrange a meeting with this Captain Sheridan, Lennier.”
Franklin took a step forward. “Ambassador, I still think--”
“I promise to submit to your examination and your tests, Doctor, but not tonight.”
Delenn kept her hand securely on Lennier’s elbow, allowing herself to be led, keeping her eyes on the floor beneath her feet. The hood of her robe was pulled so far down that she could see only a few inches at a time, but she didn’t want anyone to see her en route to the Council Chambers. She didn’t think there would be, what did the humans say? a scene, but she didn’t want the distraction. Her control over the situation felt tenuous enough already.
Lennier stopped. “I will go in first, Delenn, and let the Captain know that you are here, and would like to speak with him.” She nodded, and felt rather than saw him walk away and into the Chambers. Delenn reached out her hand, placed it against the wall. Took centering breaths. Lennier was back, nodding at her; she entered the room. Utter silence surrounded her, and she carefully made her way to the front of the table.
Delenn lifted her hood, and found herself face to face with a human in an Earthforce uniform, presumably the Captain Sheridan now running the station. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t immediately place him. She dipped her head slightly, then launched into her little speech, the words memorized by rote even before she had entered the Chrysalis. She had meant to address the entire Council, but instead found herself speaking only to Sheridan, who was staring at her with the same dazed look that Franklin had worn, a half-smile on his lips. She wondered if this look meant that the humans were trying hard to not laugh at her, if her appearance was now nonsensically absurd in the way that they seemed to highly value in their form of humor.
But Delenn had been in politics for a long time, as a diplomat, as a member of the Grey Council, and she kept her worry off her face. She bowed again, and waited through another round of silence. Sheridan still didn’t seem to know what to say; she watched his mouth open and close twice. Distantly, perhaps from the other end of the station, Londo said something about hoping that Delenn wouldn’t start acting as irrationally as the other humans now that she had become their distant cousin. Delenn made her way to her usual seat, glancing back at Sheridan only to see his steady gaze following her. She sat, and discreetly grabbed onto the edge of the table to keep from spinning.