The dream of flames. Every night since her change, Delenn had suffered through that particular agony again and again - the choked darkness around her, the surface always just tantalizingly out of reach, the black fire swirling and consuming. Tonight was different, though. The flames did not surround her but were inside of her, deep in her bones, and with each pulse of her heart they swept through her body, even down to her fingertips.
Delenn awoke, soaking wet. Her first thought was that Lennier must have seen her on fire and thrown water on her to put her out. As she became aware of her surroundings, of the glad fact of her wakefulness, Delenn pulled at her thick sleeping garments, dismayed by how they clung to her sticky body. She hadn’t been able to have a full night’s sleep since her change (and how she was coming to hate that phrase, springing up with sickening regularity; nothing tasted right since her change, strange moods and emotions swept through her since her change, she could no longer walk unnoticed through the station since her change), waking up sometimes two or three times like this, hot and wet and more uncomfortable than she’d ever been in her life.
She stripped off the sleeping garments, tossed them in the thermal unit, then stepped into her bathing stall. No need to use the cleanser; she let the water drip down over her, moving her hair aside to wet the back of her neck. Delenn stepped out, didn’t bother with a towel, and stood underneath the main air recycling vent in her bedroom, the cool air making the water on her skin evaporate, sending a welcome shiver down her spine. A few curious bumps arose on her arms, her upper chest. Tomorrow (or today, she supposed) was her delayed appointment with Franklin. She could add the strange tiny bumps to her ever-growing list of oddities that had arisen since her change.
Dry and cool, Delenn idly thought about climbing back onto her bed just as she was, but since Lennier had a propensity of simply entering her quarters in the morning with notes and agendas and messages already prepared, and she didn’t want to shock him any more than she already had, she pulled on a clean set of sleeping garments, her skin already protesting the lack of fresh air. The sheets on her bed were damp, and with a groan Delenn stripped them off, laid a fresh one on top and fervently hoped she would be able to get at least an hour or two of sleep before she had to begin yet another day.
“Now breathe deep. Good. Again.” Franklin took his reading, then moved to another piece of equipment, scanning numbers and symbols. Delenn liked to see him work; she appreciated the seemingly effortless, quiet competency of any professional in his element, and seeing Franklin move about Medlab, running this diagnostic, that test, entering data into the computer, was almost like watching the careful steps of a ritual. It added a comforting note to this experience.
“I’m glad we did that physical so recently - gives me a good baseline to work from. Have you felt more warm than usual lately, as though you were running a fever?” Franklin asked, smiling as Delenn gasped.
“Yes! All of the time, especially when I try to sleep. How did you know?”
“Your body temperature is a full eight degrees higher than it used to be. I want you to breathe into this as hard as you can, for as long as you can.” Delenn took the proffered tube and complied, finding that she ran out of air far earlier than she would have expected. Franklin continued, “You’re only a degree or so cooler than the standard human body temperature now. I’d like to take your temperature on a regular basis, maybe once a week for the next few weeks, establish what exactly your standard is now. We’re going to have to make quite a few unique standards for you, I think. Your lung capacity is diminished; did it feel that way to you?” Delenn nodded.
“Doctor, I have made a list of questions that have arisen the last several days. Could you take a look, please?” Delenn handed Franklin the notes she had written down this morning, and he read the sheet of paper, that same smile on his face, the one he’d had the entire time she’d been in this room, the smile that said this is the most fun I’ve had doing this job in a long time.
Delenn was positive she hadn’t heard him correctly. “A goose is a type of bird, yes? That some humans eat during their celebratory rituals?” Franklin laughed, not at her (she had heard some laughter directed at her in the last few days, and knew the difference), but in the way a parent might laugh when his child asks a particularly naïve question.
“The bumps you felt along your arms, I assume when you weren’t wrapped up in all your heavy robes? We call those goosebumps. When humans used to have much thicker body hair, when they were cold or threatened, the follicles would stiffen, raising the hairs and trapping air against the skin. It made the body warmer, or appear bigger. Even though we’ve lost most of our body hair over the millennia, we still break out in goosebumps as our body tries to fluff up what hair it still has; one of those evolutionary quirks, I guess.”
“I don’t have hair on my arms, or anywhere but on my head and…my eyes.” Franklin leaned close, and grinned. Delenn started to feel like some new exotic creature that had been discovered, and here was the first naturalist to catalogue her.
“You sure do. Eyelashes.” Delenn leaned forward, gazed at his eyes just as he was gazing at hers. If anyone had happened to walk by and see them, they might have wondered at the Chief Doctor and the Minbari Ambassador staring at each other with great intensity, only inches apart.
“You have these eyelashes, as well. I have never looked close enough at a human to see them before. Do they also serve an outdated purpose?” Franklin leaned back, smiled that smile again.
“They protect your eyes, from particulates, sweat, insects.” Delenn made a face, tried hard not to picture the great Deth’Na beetle trundling towards her eye, and failed, in the way one always fails to not think about something. Franklin clapped a companionable hand on her shoulder as she shuddered. He looked back down at her list. “We covered why you’re hot. I would imagine that food doesn’t taste right because your taste buds have changed, but it may be a difference in your sinuses; in humans, sense of smell is an integral part of the sense of taste. You‘ll probably just have to experiment with seasonings, different foods.” Delenn nodded, wishing she’d had the nerve to write about those bursts of emotional intensity, because she couldn’t bring herself to ask out loud. It was simply too undignified.
“Well, that’s it for today,” Franklin said, gathering up his tools and putting them away. “I noticed a few changes in the arrangement of your internal organs, but I’ll need to do a more thorough scan before I know more. Nothing pressing; why don’t we schedule that for the day after tomorrow?”
“That should be fine; I’ll have to check with Lennier,” Delenn answered, a bit troubled at the idea that her organs were no longer where they ought to be. She hadn’t expected for there to be as many changes as there were, but she chided herself at the thought; she hadn’t done this for a purely aesthetic transformation, of course, and should bear the inconveniences of her new body with more dignity and calm than she had thus far. “Thank you, Doctor.”
“Of course.” His answer was perfunctory, rote. How could she impress upon him what a difference it made to know that her symptoms weren’t unique only to her, or even worse, figments of her imagination? The little bumps signified nothing other than that she was cold; all humans had them. What a relief. How many times would Franklin be able to give her the same comfort in the future, to let her know she wasn’t alone in some new, potentially frightening, experience? Delenn couldn’t think of any way to say what she wanted to say, not without revealing how scared she was all the time, how worried she was that something would still end up being horribly wrong with her, so she only gently placed her hand on Franklin’s arm and smiled at him, hoping he would see the extent of her gratitude in her eyes. As she left Medlab, she thought he had.
The three Workers chattered to themselves in Lenn‘a, a language Delenn always found comforting to listen to; strong, concrete words, everything expressed in clear terms, no ambiguity or confusion - sometimes she thought about how simple her life would be if she had been called to the worker caste as opposed to the religious caste. She wouldn’t have to always think of ways to answer questions without actually answering them, explain a situation while still leaving out the most pertinent details, all of the various half-truths and obfuscation that had become second nature to her now.
The workers finished their measurements, taken quickly and efficiently, and two left to attend to other customers. The third, her eyes suitably downcast, waited for Delenn to pull her outer robes back on. “Would you like to choose fabrics, Ambassador?”
“No, I have a Council meeting I must attend. I trust your judgment as far as colors and patterns go. Please just make the robes as light as possible, the thinnest material you have. Make them as though I would always be wearing them during the high summer in Yedor.” Delenn finished dressing, already feeling too warm again. “When should I expect them to be finished?”
“Three standard days, I think, Ambassador.” Delenn bowed her head slightly in thanks, left the shop. She was afraid she might be running late; she had spent more time in Medlab than Lennier’s schedule had set aside. She pushed her way through the Zocolo, more crowded than usual - she was usually either in her quarters or in meetings at this time of day. Two Minbari passed her, and she granted them a slight smile, but they only turned away from her, whispering to each other. Delenn quickened her pace, head down, but she couldn’t navigate that way and bumped into a Drazi. She remembered the brief moment, just after she had emerged from the Chrysalis, examining her scale-covered hands and arms, when she had been sure that something had gone wrong, and she had become a Minbari-Drazi hybrid. Remembered that moment of panic, which swiftly vanished only to be replaced by another, and another.
“Excuse me, my apologies,” she stammered, but the Drazi was already gone, deep in the crowd, and Delenn pushed her way to the nearest shop, just for a chance to breathe.
There were tiny things hanging from the walls. Scraps of fabric and lace; black, white, some in bright colors, some nearly transparent. She would have thought them to be cleaning rags, were it not for the prices.
“Something I can help you with?” Delenn turned to see the shopkeeper, a pretty, young human girl, smiling at Delenn without artifice. How nice; she had not seen many welcoming smiles the last few days. She looked at the human’s hair, the way it was braided and coiled on top of her head; she found herself noticing that kind of thing more and more often, but her bone crest limited what she could do with her own hair, and so she had just left it hanging down. She thought she might like to try doing something different with it, but not today.
“What are these, may I ask?”
“Nighties. I didn’t think Minbari--”
“One wears these at night?” The shopkeeper nodded, that parent-with-a-silly-child smile on her face. Delenn took a closer look at the frilly and lacy and stringy things. They looked…cool. She imagined sleeping in one; skin exposed to the open air, what was covered only done so by the thinnest layer of fabric. But these were a little…too little. She did not think she would be able to wear them even in complete privacy without feeling ridiculous, immodest. “Do you have any that are not quite so…” She couldn’t think of the right word, but the shopkeeper seemed to know what she was asking, and led Delenn to the back of the shop. There the nighties (what a silly word; but that seemed true of so many human words) had the same thin straps and low-cut necklines, but they were longer, would cover her legs.
“I’ll take three of these,” Delenn said, pulling out her credit chit. The shopkeeper scanned it. “Please have them sent to my quarters.” She glanced at the timekeeper on the wall; the meeting would start in five minutes. She was always on time, usually early, but her schedule had changed so much since her change, everything taking longer than she was used to, and despite Lennier’s best efforts she found herself running late all the time. Delenn took back her chit, smiled quickly at the shopkeeper, and left, not running, which would be completely inappropriate, but walking at a rather quick pace.
Too quick a pace, as it turned out. By the time Delenn reached the Council Chambers, she was hot and sticky with sweat. Minbari did not perspire, something she had always been glad of after she had learned how many other races did, especially the Centauri - the number of times she had been too close to Londo during meetings with the Council, as he harangued and paced and gesticulated, unable to look away as the sweat dripped down his face and even sometimes onto the table, Delenn could not count. Yet here she was, sweating herself, and it was awful, awful. She stood outside the Chambers, hoping to cool down a little bit before entering, wiping off her face, feeling obscurely like she was late to an instructional session and would soon face a scolding.
“If some of the representatives find themselves too frightened to vote for this measure, too cowed, perhaps we might ask ourselves why? It wouldn’t have anything to do with Narn influence on their homeworlds, would it? Tell me, G’Kar, how many private meetings have you arranged recently?”
Delenn stepped in to see Londo strutting in the space between the main table and the risers of the non-aligned worlds. G’Kar flung himself out of his seat at the question, and Delenn was able to slip into her seat with little fanfare as everyone else watched the two men closely. Everyone except Captain Sheridan, that is, who dipped his head her way, a warm smile on his face. Delenn found herself helpless not to smile back, both wishing that he hadn’t noticed her and pleased that he had.
“The Narn are not in the habit of coercing other races - I might think that you were the one visiting certain representatives, making certain…statements,” G’Kar replied, the furious anger that always seemed to surround him making his voice tight. Londo laughed, too loudly, too exuberantly, as always.
“This is my proposal that we’re discussing! Why would I threaten anyone? As though I am even capable of making threats. You’re not making sense, not that that’s anything new.”
“Enough!” Sheridan said, his voice cutting through the din as the other representatives all tried to throw their comments in at the same time. “Every representative here is free to vote however he or she wishes without those motives being examined. This isn’t a courtroom, Ambassador Mollari; your proposal has been voted down. Next order of business.” Delenn smiled to herself as Londo sat down, grumbling, but neatly taken care of nonetheless. She looked through her agenda, impressed by how quickly the Captain had been able to establish himself in the Council. After Sinclair’s calm, careful leadership, she had been worried that his replacement would fail to command the same respect from the diverse races all gathered here, many of whom seemed to look forward to opportunities for conflict more than they ever tried to accomplish anything of substance. But Sheridan--
The Brakiri ambassador was addressing the Council now. Delenn forced herself to focus.
“Ambassador? Could I walk you to your quarters?” Delenn looked up from her papers to see Captain Sheridan in front of her, that same steady smile on his face. Every now and then the representatives would be in a talkative mood after a Council meeting was over, but most times there was a great scramble for the exits, and Delenn usually busied herself with something until the Chambers cleared out. Aside from the Drazi and Markab ambassadors still arguing about something in the corner, Delenn and Sheridan were alone. She was glad; she had wanted to speak with him, get to know a little bit more about him, but hadn’t had the time for a personal meeting yet.
“Of course, Captain. Thank you,” she replied, and they walked out into the corridor side by side.
“I’m sorry I haven’t had the chance to really talk with you since…since we met,” he said. “I was worried when you weren’t at the meeting at first. I was afraid I’d offended you.”
“How could you have offended me?” Delenn watched as the Captain paused, seeming to pick his next words carefully. This was not how she expected this conversation to begin.
“I know the Minbari weren’t pleased that I was assigned to Babylon 5.” She shook her head. What was he talking about?
“I haven’t had the opportunity to talk with my government since my change. I was unaware there was any concern over your appointment.” Now he was looking at her with confusion. They reached the tube, and entered, and now that they were no longer walking and had no excuse to do otherwise, Delenn found herself looking straight at him.
And then she knew why he had seemed so familiar that first time she looked at him. Why his name seemed to be one she’d heard before. She had been so concerned with herself, with utterly mundane things like sweat and goosebumps, she hadn’t even bothered to look up the most cursory information about the new Captain. “You’re Starkiller.” Sheridan nodded, looked both uncomfortable and worried and yet still proud. Delenn wanted to tell him that she was not angry with him, could not begrudge the humans their one paltry victory, and for a brief moment the thought I was nearly Earthkiller, so don’t feel guilty sprang unbidden to the forefront of her mind; she didn’t know what to say, though, so she just smiled at him, shaking her head, wondering why the tube wasn’t moving, noticing that the air was getting quite close.
“I’m not offended, not at all,” she finally said, and the relief on his face was immediate. “I imagine you’ve been fairly busy. How have you settled in?” Sheridan looked around at the tube himself, the corners of his mouth turned down, and she heard the tiniest sound, a deep, gruff “Hmm” that for some reason she found captivating.
“Where are we going?” he asked, and she realized that the tube was still waiting for a command.
“Oh. Green Four.” There, they were moving. She looked at him, and he looked at her, and even though their interaction thus far had been fairly awkward, Delenn was struck by how much she already liked him. He had a likeable face, one that was handsome for a human. She had already noticed his smile, and the dimples that framed it. His eyes were light; not blue, perhaps hazel. She was still looking at him. Who had spoken last? Had he asked her a question, and was he waiting for an answer?
“No, still settling in. Going well, it’s going well. With a station this size, it’s going to take a while to learn the ropes.” She was glad that she had learned that particular phrase from Mr. Garibaldi and did not have to ask to what ropes he was referring. The tube stopped, the doors opened, and Sheridan held out an arm to indicate that she should leave first. As she did, she felt only the very slightest brush against her back, and realized he must have brought his hand up, only to take it immediately away. Perhaps she had not been moving quickly enough. Perhaps he was in a hurry. Delenn started walking at her usual pace, not at the more leisurely one she would have used while engaged in conversation. Of course he would be quite busy, and probably had only asked to accompany her to make sure the Minbari ambassador was not angry with him.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said, about why you did what you did. About being a bridge between our peoples, so we wouldn’t have another war,” Sheridan said as they arrived at her quarters. “And I was thinking that that’s really the whole point of this station, that’s why we’re here. We’re all bridges. And after that Council meeting, and refereeing between Londo and G’Kar, and some of the other crises that have already popped up, well, it’s just a big relief to know how committed you are to peace. To know that you’re going to be sitting at that table with me.” He wasn’t the best speaker in the world, but the sentiment itself…Delenn felt a prickle of tears at the back of her eyes, and swallowed hard. There had been laughter and derision and condescension and dismay, but this was the first time she had felt understanding and respect from someone else regarding her transformation. She looked up into Sheridan’s face, his clear, open face, free of pretense, and was so happy that she was afraid she would just throw her arms around him. So she opened her door, and ducked inside, and took the opportunity to compose herself.
“Thank you, Captain. I have no doubts that we will work very well together, and I hope that we are able to guide the Council toward making wise decisions.” She lowered her head, watched him return the gesture, and then he walked away. Her door closed, but Delenn just stood there, lost in thought.
Why had Earthgov sent Starkiller to run Babylon 5? Was it to send a message? But he had been perfectly polite to her, even cordial. She did not look like a Minbari anymore, though, or at least not like any Minbari anyone had ever seen; perhaps that made the difference. It would do no good to fret over it now; she would see what happened, although this felt like an auspicious start to their professional relationship.
There was a package on her counter, and Delenn looked at the slip of paper pinned to the top. Thank you for your recent order - please let me know if there’s anything I can help you with in the future! --Sherri. Delenn opened the bag and pulled out her new night clothes. So light, so airy, and she found herself looking forward to sleeping tonight. There was something else at the bottom - a robe, with long sleeves and a single tie around the middle, but of a material only slightly thicker than the other garments. This would be perfect to pull on those mornings when Lennier arrived earlier than expected. Delenn made a mental note to send Sherri a thank-you message, perhaps a small gift.
The restaurant was the only one on the station with decent flarn, so Delenn found herself eating there on a regular basis. She wasn’t much of a cook herself, and hated to ask Lennier, who was often busier than even she was. After lunch she had her scheduled scan with Franklin in Medlab, which she was not looking forward to, so she found herself without much of an appetite. There was a table of three Minbari warriors against the wall, halfway across the restaurant, and Delenn found that during a lull in the overall level of chatter that she could hear their conversation.
It was surprising. She would have thought them too far away to hear, especially since their voices weren’t raised in the slightest. But she supposed that her new human ears, which had always struck her as absurdly large, did have a reason for their size after all. She kept her eyes on her plate, pushed the flarn around, and listened.
They were talking about her.
“I cannot believe the Council has allowed this to happen. It would be bad enough were any ordinary Minbari to go through such a transformation, but for the Federation’s representative to Babylon 5? It’s disgraceful.”
“She looks like a freak. Like she was too close to the fusion reactor after an accident.”
“You two can talk all you like, but I plan to do something. I’ve already submitted my request to speak with my clan’s elders, and the warrior leadership here on the station. I will ask them to do what they can to remove her. She no longer represents our people, our voice.”
Delenn gripped the edge of the table with her free hand, took deep breaths. She had expected this. These were only the instinctual reactions of warriors, who rarely approached a new situation with consideration or forethought. To remove her from the station would be an admission of weakness, would reflect poorly on the Grey Council. She had nothing to fear, and their opinions were meaningless.
“Why do you think she did it?”
“The religious caste were the ones who pushed for the surrender to the humans. Soft, spineless, the lot of them. She’s probably a human fetishist, obsessed with the animals. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she’s taken a human lover. It’s bestiality, really.”
She could take no more, and stood abruptly, her chair scraping loudly over the tiles. She knew that the warriors would notice her leaving, would put two and two together, but she didn’t care. She left, head held high, but her cheeks were burning.
Delenn had redressed, and now waited patiently for Franklin to return. After he had performed the more thorough scan of her abdomen, he had left, saying something about analyzing the results immediately and saving her some time, and Dr. Hobbs had come in to give Delenn an internal examination. Delenn thought that Franklin both didn’t feel entirely comfortable doing the exam himself, and that she would prefer a female physician. Humans could be quaint sometimes, the way they worried about gender, how often they let those concerns dictate decisions in their day-to-day lives. But Delenn didn’t mind, if it meant that Franklin would be more at ease with her.
“Everything’s just fine,” Franklin said, entering the room. He sat across from Delenn, radiating ease, and she felt herself grow calm. She didn’t want to admit it, but she had been a bit worried about what the results might have been. “Your uterus has increased in size by about thirty percent; human fetuses gestate longer, are larger at birth. Your other organs had to shift around a bit to make room.”
“So my reproductive system will function correctly?” she asked. Then Franklin opened the folder he was carrying, shuffled through the papers, and she realized he was buying some time.
“The results on your blood tests have come back. I was curious to see if there had been any changes to your DNA, if your metamorphosis extended clear down to the genetic level. Now, this is just a preliminary diagnosis, I’d like to send off some of the blood work to the labs on Earth, maybe get a second or third opinion from some of my colleagues, but it does appear that there are sizeable differences, places in your genome that are more human than Minbari.”
“What does that mean? That I am genetically compatible with humans?” Again the paper shuffling.
“It depends on what you mean by that,” he answered, his eyes on hers, his voice measured, direct. “You and I are definitely more closely related than we were before. I could probably give you human blood if you needed a transfusion, maybe even human tissues should circumstances require it, although let’s hope they never do. As far as reproduction goes, I think that if we were to use in vitro fertilization, you wouldn’t have much trouble carrying a child to term. Overall you’re still more Minbari than human, at least on a genetic level.”
“I would not have trouble having a child with another Minbari, you mean,” she said, aware of an ache just below her breast bone. Her fingers trembled, and she clasped her hands tightly in her lap.
“That’s right. I doubt very much you could reproduce with a human. That’s not something you were concerned about, were you?”
She heard herself answer as though she stood outside the room, felt a tight smile stretch across her face. “No, of course not. Thank you, Doctor.” She stood to leave, and concentrated on moving one foot in front of the other, in keeping her face smooth and still.
“Ambassador? There are some other…symptoms you might experience as a result of the change in your reproductive system,” Franklin said, standing himself. “We should probably go over them, just in case.” Delenn had to get out, had to get back to her quarters, she didn’t have much time left, she knew it, she knew that her hold over herself was tenuous at best.
“I’m very busy, Doctor. Perhaps some other time.” Then she was out, knowing that she must appear very rude, knowing that Franklin had followed her a few steps. She heard him say, “Ambassador,” again, but ignored him.
Out of Medlab, down the corridors, to the tube, through Green Sector. The whole time, faces turned her way; inquisitive, amused, angry, surprised. Delenn repeated a mantra in her head, timed it to her steps. Everything is fine. You are fine. Everything will work out. This is where the universe wants you to be. There is a reason for this. You will be fine.
By the time she reached her quarters, she was shaking so badly she could hardly open her door. She set it to open by her voice command only, extinguished all the lights, closed the frosted doors to her bedroom and then locked the door to her ablution room, sat down inside the bathing stall, held her knees tight to her chest, and cried.