The sky was turning a pale lavender as Dancer emerged from her room followed by Tr'Gan; they'd spent quite a while during the night arguing over the wisdom of this jaunt before she'd been finally able to persuade the Narn that she didn't need a chaperone. Anyani was of little help merely stating repeatedly all through the discussion, "He must see the place of his arrival to start him on his road home." His road home? What about hers?
Neroon was waiting by the entrance still looking so unlike himself in the Drazi workclothes. The Narn medic stepped close to him and said in a low voice, "Dancer is our friend; we would avenge her should any harm come to her."
"I am not at war with humans...at least not at the moment," he replied in an equally low voice.
"See that you don't start one." Tr'gan nodded at her and returned to her quarters as, without further words, Dancer and Neroon left the admin building. Today she wore another caftan, this one in the design of a Drazi desertdweller and the hem swirled around her midcalf. They were like a set of matching dolls she thought humorlessly as she led them to the hanger and headed towards the nearest skimmer. As she went to the left, he said, "I will pilot the craft"
"You don't know where to go," she protested
"Then you will direct me," he replied calmly as he escorted her to the passenger seat and helped her settle herself comfortably or as comfortable as she could be; babe-within was very active this morning, leading her once again to feel like she'd swallowed a miniature soccer player; the other day she had actually seen a tiny foot trying to poke through her skin.
The skimmer was of Brakiri make but one skimmer was much like another, no matter the planet of origin and the basic instrumentation was similar. Was this really the right thing to do she wondered, going off with Neroon alone despite Anyani's urgings. Not only was there potential danger from the warrior but she suspected her baby wouldn't wait much longer to be born. She was more concerned than ever as the date that Neroon gave for his arrival didn't make sense; she couldn't have been pregnant for over 18 months. How long had she been a prisoner? It only made sense if...
Neroon quickly flew the skimmer to a higher-than-cruising altitude, circling their little community. "What's that?" he asked, referring to the large circular depression in the center.
"It's the tomb of the unknown soldiers." That was how she'd come to refer to it ever since that terrible, awful, wonderful day 130, no, 131 days ago.
"I don't understand. Tr'gan explained you were all prisoners of the Shadows, freed when they departed but she said nothing of this."
"The holding complex extended downward for many levels containing I don't know how many beings as we were incarcerated in individual cells. One day I was awakened by a distant explosion far beneath me, then another a bit closer. They kept coming closer and closer, then the power went out. The cell doors opened and we helped each other get to the surface. Finally there was one long explosion and the entire structure collapsed upon itself." Dancer still had nightmares of their journey in the total darkness as they tried to reach the surface before they were trapped, crawling over debris and bodies.
"You eleven were the only survivors?'
"No, originally there were sixteen of us. There were two sister-bonded Abbai and a trio of Pak'ma'ra."
"What happened to them?"
"The Abbai are amphibious and the pair liked to catch the fish-like creatures that swim in the sea. One day we saw a dark blob approach them underwater then all we saw was a patch of blood. The Pak'ma'ra died when we ran out of carrion."
"Ran out of carrion? What did they find to eat here."
He looked at her sharply. "Any Minbari?"
She smiled wryly and replied, "Don't worry, there were no Minbari here. The Shadows considered them too tainted by the Vorlons to be allowed anywhere near them."
He set course for the sea now visible on the horizon, descending to a lower height and passing over a half-built structure. "What's that?"
"The Shadows began building something there but left it unfinished when they departed. The Drazi are trying to turn it into a greenhouse so we can supplement our diet with fresh food." Worry #172 - was she getting enough nutrients for the developing child? Until the baby was born she would have no way of knowing and even then any problems due to a dietary deficiency might not show up for years.
"What do you survive on?"
"Over that hill," she gestured toward the southeast, "is a valley full of crashed ships. The Shadows removed the engines and all communication devices and then simply dropped the hulls onto the planet. There are layers upon layers of them and we are scavenging supplies from them. Mostly we eat insta-heats, mealbars, emergency rations and whatever else we find on the wrecks." They were now out of sight of the encampment and she told Neroon to head southwest.
"That is not the way to the sea," he said as he changed course.
"You didn't crash in the sea," Dancer sighed. "I have to show you where we found you or you won't believe what I say. Heck, sometimes I don't believe it yet here you are."
Within a very short time they were within sight of the Citadel. "What is this place?" he asked.
"No one knows. Anyani says it predates the Vorlons and the Shadows." She looked at the Citadel as it huddled at the base of the escarpment. If it was that old what kept it from being buried by the occasional sandstorms that swept the region? There were too many mysteries here and not enough answers. "It's where we found you."
He looked at her in surprise as he landed the craft almost exactly where Dancer had parked the airsled just a few days previously. She was dumbfounded when he again came around to her side and helped her out of the skimmer. Together they entered the ancient structure.
"In Valen's name," he exclaimed in Minbari, turning to look at her as she sat once more on that same outcrop of rock. "It's the Starfire Wheel."
Starfire Wheel? She'd heard of that once. "That's in the Temple of Varenni? Where you hold your challenges?" she asked in the same language.
He looked at her in surprise. "How is it you speak the language of my people?"
The time had come. She swallowed and replied, "I was anla'shok."
"Was, is - I don't know what I am anymore except an about-to-be mother."
"Neither do I," he said ruefully, before returning his attention to the Citadel. "The last thing I remember of Minbar was being in the Temple declaring the war between the castes to be over and accepting my death."
"What is the Starfire Wheel?" she asked curiously. A war between the castes? How had that come about? But this was not the time to go off on a tangent.
"It dates to our earliest history, before the coming of Valen, even before the Dark Times. According to legend it was discovered by a priest named Varenni who used it to unite the Religious caste. Since that time the temple complex has been built around it. We use it on rare occasions to settle differences; the last time was soon after Valen's arrival when he was trying to to persuade us to unite with him and the Vorlons against the Shadows. One of our warriors, Khered, heeded him and used the Starfire Wheel to persuade the rest of our caste to follow Valen and, in doing so, he perished in the Wheel," he said as he walked around the arena before halting. "But if he didn't die, he would've..." his voice trailed off.
"He would have appeared here and died."
"You don't know that," he protested.
"Look about Neroon, we were here to find you and take you to medical aid. Thousands of years ago there was no one else here. He would've materialized, badly hurt with no succor in sight. There's no potable surface water for miles and little to eat. I know you Minbari are tough but not even a Minbari could survive that without help."
Without answering he went outside into the sunlight and began looking around, rearranging the sand with his workboots. Dancer stayed in the shade; they would soon have to return to the camp as neither of them would do well in the full heat of the day. Suddenly he gave a cry and crouched down lifting something carefully out of the sand. She took a few steps closer. The object was a skull with a bonecrest. After studying it for a minute, he carefully replaced the skull where he found it, covering it with sand and placing a few rocks on top. He stayed there for a few more minutes before rising to continue to shift the surrounding sand. Something caught his foot and he bent down to pick up a metallic cylinder. He brushed the sand off the pike, then returned to what shade there was in the Citadel.
As he came closer, she saw the denn'bok more clearly. The hilt had what resembled a damascene pattern, far fancier than the plain metal one she once had.
"I found Khered."
"How can you be certain? The Wheel has been used innumerous times."
He held out the denn'bok. "This was made by Baruval, the greatest denn'bok-maker on Minbar. He made only a dozen or so of these; one was held by Khered when he made his challenge."
He activated it as she quickly stepped back. He laughed and said, "See, it still works after all these centuries. Baruval's work has never been equaled," he said with awe as he deactivated it and slipped it into the pocket in his coverall.
"You take from the dead?" she asked, knowing of the Minbaris' reverence for their dead.
"It would be mine by right. Khered was of the Star Riders. We have been bereft of this since his death." He looked about the surrounding area. "I suppose that there are more of my people buried in the sands here... all those who supposedly perished in the Wheel back home. I cannot dig them all up," he sighed and added, "I don't suppose the others would help?"
"I'm sorry Neroon. I know how much the dead are venerated on Minbar but we are fighting for our survival and don't have the time or energy to spare for such a project. If we're ever rescued, your people can come here and do what should be done."
He thought for a moment. "Who else knows about what happened here?"
"Only Anyani. She had a vision...you know about the psi abilities of some Centauri women?" At his nod, she continued, "She woke me up that morning and brought us here to witness your arrival. She said you would find a key to our rescue." Dancer looked down at her swollen middle; she'd so hoped, despite the noted indifference of the universe, that somehow he would find them in time. She looked up and continued, "I thought it best to keep it quiet so if we're ever rescued, Entil'Zha Sinclair could decide what must be done with such technology."
"Sinclair is gone. Delenn is now Entil'Zha. Are you still of the same mind?"
"I don't know and until we are rescued it's irrelevant. Let me just say that as long as Clark is in charge I wouldn't trust my own government with anything like this." It had to be faced...now. She swallowed nervously and asked, "What happened to Jeff, I mean Entil'Zha Sinclair?"
He looked at her, really looked at her and it was as if he truly saw her for the first time. "I know you...you were there when he became Entil'Zha. Anla'shok Sakar or something.
"Sakai. Catherine Sakai." She hadn't dared say her true name in so long - not since she was captured by the Shadows and convinced them that her name was Dancer. Deep-space surveyors, alone out there in the vastness of space sometimes became slightly unhinged from spending too much time in hyperspace. That and the solitude had made her on occasion overidentify with her ship the Skydancer. This delusion had made it possible to fool her interrogators. Later she'd added the April from a character in an old vid she'd once watched with Jeff one cold snowy winter.
"The child? It's his?"
"She. She is his. Anyani swears the baby is a girl. What happened to her father?' she asked desperately.
"In 2260, Sinclair went to Babylon 5 then left on a mission; he has not been seen since and it is not known what became of him but three months later Delenn was proclaimed Entil'Zha," he replied, watching her carefully.
Delenn? had she done something to Jeff? but she'd seemed so eager for he who supposedly was Valen in this life to become Entil'Zha. It didn't make sense. What really happened to him she wondered as she glanced at Neroon looking oh so earnest, then recalled the old saying, The Minbari never tell anyone the whole truth.
"You don't believe me?"
"Should I? You hated him. You fought with him on Babylon 5, you prosecuted him for plotting to assassinate Jenimer when it was all a frame, you nearly killed him when you insisted he drink the Sha'neyat at the investiture ceremony and now you want me to believe you don't know what happened to him?"
He looked at her sadly, "Believe me when I say I have had a change of heart regarding Sinclair. I deeply regret the enmity that was between us."
Believe him? Dancer wanted to lash out at him but babe-within had other ideas. "Shrock," she exclaimed as she felt liquid drip down her legs followed by a sharp contraction. Nooo not now, not here.
"She's wants out." Dancer panted. She had no chronometer - how the heck was she supposed to time the contractions?
Suddenly Neroon swooped her up in his arms and carried her to the skimmer. Fortunately he'd left the cooler on otherwise it would have been a sauna inside. He bundled her in and set course for the base as Dancer did her best to try to keep calm and hope that they would both come out of this safely.
*I am well aware that in fandom the terms Alyt and Shai Alyt have a different meaning; however my usage does not contradict aired canon and that is what I am going by (yes I know there appears to be an exception but that will be cleared up later).