song1.htmlTEXTStMlZg̸k Song With Broken Music

Disclaimer: the setting, characters, and concepts of Babylon 5 belong to JMS, Babylonian Productions, and a good number of other people/places/things I can't remember. (Pssst....JMS...leave now! See no evil, and all that...) No infringement of copyright is intended, I just went for a stroll through the station. Haven't made one thin dime on anything I've ever written, and will not start with this. No harm, no lawsuit? Please?

Song With Broken Music
by Jacynthe Demorae

Denise Laramie shut down her workstation and sealed up her tool tray. The next shift worker would finish the probe on the worktable, and the metal and ceramic sphere would disappear into the vague nether land of Testing. Tomorrow, she'd come back and find another in the exact same state of partial completion, would craft the next level, and leave it for the next shift to finish. All that changed were the serial numbers. Without those numbers, she might think herself in some space-age version of the pits of Tartarus. Her shift-mates headed towards the exits, already pulling off safety equipment and chattering amongst themselves.

"Hey, Dee?"

Denise grimaced. She detested that nickname. Turning around, she saw a sandy-haired tech about five years her junior. She couldn't remember his name, if she had ever known it. Even after three years of living on-station, a year on the same shift, faces around her remained nameless blurs. Better, that way.


He faltered, then visibly gathered himself. "Listen...tomorrow's the Treaty anniversary, and--"

"Sure, I'll cover for you," she interrupted, anticipating his request. She usually subbed for anyone who asked. After all, she had the time, and extra pay was always welcome.

He blinked. "Uh, actually...I was going to ask if you were going to the ceremony."

"Ceremony?" she asked, feeling like an idiot. Something sharp and hot shifted in the pit of her stomach. "I don't go to Treaty ceremonies."

Her voice sounded high and thin in her own ears, brittle.

"Oh, they're kind of stiff, the ones on Earth, anyway." The tech shrugged one shoulder. "They're different here, though, the Minbari--"

Denise tensed, fixing the tech with an intent stare. She tasted bitter bile at the back of her throat. "What about the Minbari?"

He hesitated. "They--that is, I hear there's a lot of Minbari rituals in the ceremony here. It's supposed to be...pretty...impressive...." His voice faltered, then stumbled to a halt. This wasn't working out the way he'd planned. The tech swallowed hard. "So...are you going?"

Denise continued to stare into the middle distance for a long, tense moment, then refocused on him. "When is this ceremony? Where?"

He blinked. "Oh, well...there're a lot of smaller gatherings--some of 'em pretty wild--but the main one is in the Garden. Mid-watch, I think, but it's listed--"

Her gaze flickered, then sharpened. "Thanks. I'll be there."

Without another word, she turned on her heel and stalked off, leaving the tech to stare after her. So do we have a date or what?


Denise made her way to her quarters, a small gray cubicle with an economy bath, the cheapest living space on the station, barring Down Below. The starkness of it had ceased to bother her. It had a door that locked, and a functioning environmental system. That was all she needed. She sat down at her fold-out table and thought about what she'd just learned.

Denise had buried herself in work, in alcohol, in any distraction she could find to block out the memory of the Battle of the Line. Her memories of that day had never faded, she didn't need a bells-and-whistles reminder. She didn't need any kind of reminder at all. The Battle of the Line was never farther than an eyeblink away.

But Minbari taking part in a Treaty commemoration? Easier to imagine pigs with gills piloting spaceships, or bare-naked spacewalking. Or a race of technologically advanced aliens, hounding humans across the stars, then surrendering a breath away from annihilating the Human race, but never saying why?

Denise pushed away from the table and punched up her no-frills link to Babcom. Query, she typed, time/location of Treaty of the Line ceremony. The station logo popped up and insipid on-hold music began to play. Denise rolled her eyes and drummed her fingertips on the console, tapping out a counter-rhythym.

Before she got five beats into it, a text display popped up, giving her the event schedule. She studied it in some dismay. Scheduled speakers and presentations, even a video performance. It looked more like a damn block party than a remembrance of genocide. The sharp pain in her stomach began lancing out, like a starburst razor, slicing deep. She pressed a hand to her abdomen, trying to soothe the ache.

Station authorities invite all residents and visitors to participate in the observance in accordance with their own cultural dictates. Witnesses of the Line are especially invited to share their stories.

Earth's ambassador to Minbar, Jeffrey Sinclair, would have a pre-recorded message. The Minbari ambassador herself would speak, and some damned Bonehead priest would officiate, twisting words into Gordian knots, but never apologize, never explain.

Denise cleared the screen, then sent a personal leave notice to her supervisor. They wanted to listen to speeches about the Line, hmm? Then listen, and listen good.

Her gut ached like she'd swallowed lye and turpentine. Trembling, she turned away from the console and groped for her OTC meds case. Popping it open, she gulped down double-doses of antacid/analgesics and mild tranks. She collapsed onto her berth, not even bothering to fold it out into a proper bed. Curled up on the lumpy cushions, she hugged herself, waiting for the meds to kick in. It took longer than usual. By the time she finally drifted off to sleep, the shakes still hadn't let her go.


She left early for the ceremony, carefully dressed in her best clothes: a snug dun-colored worksuit, popular among workers on terraforming projects. They were durable, allowed for easy range of motion, and were trim enough to fit easily under an enviro-suit. More importantly, they fell within range of her meager clothing allowance. On her left wrist, she wore a braided copper bracelet, her sole piece of jewelry, and her only physical legacy from her mother.

Apparently, many other station-dwellers had also planned on arriving early. The corridors thronged with people, many of them wearing a small clutch pin with a star-speckled disc, bisected by a red line. Most of them seemed headed towards the Garden. Denise drifted at the edge of the crowd, speaking to no-one, finally finding a place to stand that commanded a reasonable view.

Nothing so gauche as a podium for a Minbari speaker. Smooth, white stones arranged in a loose white circle. A low table, draped with an embroidered cloth, supported a pyramid of glass shelves, each bearing a row of triangular crystal oil lamps. Beneath it, and running the length of the table, was a shallow silver basin, filled with water. She couldn't see any connection between these things and the Battle of the Line or its resulting treaty.

A Minbari dressed in the layered brocade robes favored by the religious caste moved through the crowd and stepped into the stone circle. Denise watched--him? Her? Who could tell?--with narrowed eyes, arms folded protectively across her chest. Clasping its hands together, the Minbari waited until relative silence had descended over the crowd.

"Welcome. I am Ruthvyn, of the fifth Fane of the Star Riders clan, once of the military caste."

Denise's attention locked onto the Minbari. A warrior? She could count the number of Minbari she knew by sight and name on one hand and still have fingers left over. They'd all been of the religious caste--technically, she supposed, so was this one. She'd never even made eye contact with a Bonehead Butcher before. She swallowed hard. The razorblades jabbed into her stomach again.

"I thank you all for coming to bear witness to this act of contrition and renewal. All are invited to speak if they wish, to share their account of the war between our peoples. If you will allow, I will share my story with you."

Silence. No one spoke, no one moved. Ruthvyn inclined its head, held the pose for a moment, then reached for one of the oil lamps. Another Minbari, this one in simpler robes, came forward with a lit pillar candle. The two exchanged bows, and Ruthvyn lit the lamp from the other's candle. The Star Rider--bloody pretentious name, Denise thought--turned back to face them.

"I was born into the military caste and took training to be a pilot. I hadn't yet finished my training when the Minbari first encountered Humans. When our Chosen One was slain."

The words hung in the air. Denise kept her gaze locked on the Minbari. She could read nothing in those alien features.

"We embarked on our holy war of vengeance, striking at those who robbed us of Dukhat. Our course was clear--for its crime, Humanity must be eradicated." Ruthvyn bowed his head.

He? When had the Minbari become a 'he'? Denise shifted her weight uneasily. Giving a Minbari even the loose ID of a gender specification implied a recognition, an acknowledgement of the alien as a person. A person with thoughts, emotions, rights, and dignity. More than they gave us, Denise thought, the old anger flaring to new life. She glowered at the Minbari. Just another Bonehead Butcher, no matter how he tries to dress it up.

'He,' again, damn it.

As if he sensed her gaze, Ruthvyn raised his head--and seemed to look directly at her.

"As a warrior, I served to protect, to defend--and then, to avenge. I took my place with others of my caste and followed Branmer to the Line, in the last great advance."

Denise nearly spat at the name. Branmer. The Butcher with the most blood on his hands. The one who gave the orders. The one who couldn't die horribly enough in her most secret fantasies. She must have made some sound or movement, the people near her were giving her wary looks. With an effort, she locked down her emotions, thrusting them behind the wall she'd built up with such care and determination for the past fifteen years.

"When the order came to surrender, I could not believe...I did not understand. Yet our orders were clear and direct. I returned to Minbar, my heart buried in the ruins of my spirit. The moment I returned home, I went to a temple, and remained there for days."

Oh, what's this, a play for sympathy? She heard echoes of her own confusion in the Minbari's words, a deep frustration at the lack of answers. She didn't want to sympathize, damn it.

"After the Battle of the Line, as it came to be called, I could no longer perform the duties of a Minbari warrior. A Minbari's foremost duty is to the society--and yet that society, my own birth caste, had betrayed me. The lines, the purposes, once so clear, had blurred beyond recognition."

Did all Minbari sound like that? she wondered suddenly. Restrained, and a touch sorrowful? Well, they had a lot to be sorry about.

"The spirit called then, bidding me to set down the warrior's burden, and
take up the challenge of healing. To protect, on another front."

For a priest, he talks like a Security chief. Denise frowned and edged closer, trying to get a better view of the Minbari's features.

"I come here today to bear witness," he said, seeming to speak to the flame in his hands, "that a Line may be a boundary--or a shield."

He placed his lamp into the basin, where it floated easily on the surface of the liquid. It began to drift along the surface, just a single light, but surprisingly bright. Denise followed it with her eyes for a moment, then dragged her attention back to the Minbari. Folding his hands again, Ruthvyn bowed to the assembled listeners and stepped out of the circle.

One by one, others came forward to speaking, each lighting lamps and releasing them in their turn. Men and women in Earthforce uniforms, all proudly bearing the Medal of the Line. Some looked hale and whole, others carried shiny pink burn scars that twisted and distorted their features. Others limped, or wore prosthetics. Captain Sheridan spoke briefly, followed by the Minbari ambassador--unquestionably a she, the first Minbari she'd ever seen with hair. Ambassador Sinclair had sent a short speech on disc. The lags between speakers grew longer and longer, until it seemed that no-one else wished to speak. Ruthvyn came into the circle again, perhaps to close the ceremony.

"I have a story to tell."

Heads turned, a quick, soft murmur of surprise. For a moment, Denise wasn't sure the words had actually come from her throat. Ruthvyn didn't skip a beat.

"Then please come forward and share it with us."

Denise moved through the press of bodies, almost stumbling when she reached the open area of the circle. She caught herself on one of the stones and regained her balance. She kept her gaze fixed on Ruthvyn. Share, and share alike. Whatever you do comes back to you.

She stopped in front of him, and he silently handed her one of the small lamps. She accepted it, not knowing how to refuse. It fit easily in her hands, made of glass or crystal, triangular and filled with a clear, aromatic oil, with a bit of wick. It smelled faintly of--what was that fruit? Oh, yes. Pears.

When she made no move to do so herself, Ruthvyn lit the lamp for her. He met her eyes once, then looked away. As he moved past her, she caught a whiff of some faint spice, something like cloves, but subtly different.

She looked out over the sea of faces, all turned expectantly towards her. So many faces, Human and not. So many eyes. For a moment, her nerve faltered. Then the razors cut her again, and the words came with the pain.

"My name is Denise Laramie. I was fifteen at the Battle of the Line." Her voice sounded thin, weak. "My parents were both Earthforce, support staff, not combatants. They were stationed on Beta Duramis, and they'd taken me with them."

Some of the faces turned towards her softened with sympathy. Others--so many others--closed with remembered grief. Beta Duramis had been one of the mid-range stations completely over-run in the Minbari press to the Line. The last 'great advance,' as Ruthvyn had called it.

"Anyone who could pilot got pulled for the defensive line. Holes in the support staff were patched as best they could, but things were pretty chaotic." Denise paused, remembering.

Section after section cold and dim, all available power diverted to the stations defenses... Beta Duramis was a research and communication outpost, meant to monitor traffic and serve as a resupply post for the interplanetary traffic. Everyone knew the station's defenses were slim. Their hope lay in the physical barricade of ships gathering around the station. No one spoke about stopping the Minbari, only of slowing them down just long enough for the evacuees to escape.

"I said good-bye to my parents and joined the evacuee group I'd been assigned to--mostly kids." She smiled slightly at the irony. Fifteen wasn't even legal, but she'd felt ancient compared to the ten and twelve year olds she'd been placed with.

"They packed us into freighters, shuttles, anything spaceworthy that hadn't been claimed for the defense. I don't know how many were on our ship--maybe thirty or fifty."

So quiet, despite all of the people. The freighter had been gutted, everything possible pulled out to make room for the evacuees. They probably exceeded the maximum capacity for the old spacebus, and there were still people left behind. They sat on bare decks with their bags and bundles. One girl held a stuffed toy cat on her lap with a white-knuckled grip. Everyone tried not to cry.

For a moment, Denise smelled the ozone-reek of stressed electronics and the acrid stink of too much fear in too small a place. Fifteen years, and never more than an eyeblink away.

"Undocking is pretty smooth, under almost any condition, even emergency evac. Still, without restraints or enough handholds, we went sliding all over the place."

A spike in the fear level, a scattering of sharp, short screams. The vibration from the straining engines rattled their bones.

"We just started to level out," Denise continued, "when something hit us from the side. The lights went out in the hold, then came back on emergency power."

Faces distorted in the sickly yellow light, bodies in struggling heaps.

"We took another hit, and this time we rolled."

Bodies falling, crashing into walls and bulkheads, loose equipment turned into crude missiles. Clawing hands, scrabbling for some handhold.

"I remember screaming--the gravity just cut out, and blood bubbles spun through the hold, breaking on faces, on walls."

Her hands shook, making the hot oil slosh against the side of the glass lamp, making the tiny flame dance and quiver. I don't want to talk anymore. I don't want to remember. But she had never really forgotten. Could never forget. The memories had their fangs in her now, and wouldn't let go. Denise looked up, seeking some point of calm. She met Ruthvyn's eyes. The razors cut again, and she tasted blood.

"The whole ship shook, felt just like somebody hitting the emergency stop on a lift car. The girl next to me started screaming that she smelled smoke."

The girl with the toy cat.

Thick, ropy tendrils, greasy-smelling, creeping into the hold.

"We all panicked, then."

Fighting, clawing at each other, trying to find the emergency hatches, trying to navigate in null-g. Screaming for help. Where were the adults? Why weren't they helping? They were supposed to be safe, her parents had told her she was going someplace safe--

"No pods." The words fell like weights. "They must have needed craft so badly...they stripped the ships of the escape pods."

A gross violation of safety regs--but in the days leading to the Line, the regs went out in the trash. So many people, so few ships, so small a chance of survival.

"We were overloaded, there wasn't enough working emergency equipment."

Not enough masks. They tried to share, they knew the rules. First one, then the other. Breathe shallow. Wait for help. Watch the indicators grow dim and wink out, one by one.

"The bodies tumbled and bounced off of each other, off of me--"

The little girl, still holding the toy cat.

Some of the oil splashed over, onto her hand. She dropped the lamp with a cry, shocked by the small, unexpected pain. The lamp tumbled to the deck and smashed against the plates, spraying shrapnel and hot oil everywhere. By some miracle, it didn't ignite.

Silence. Utter, utter silence. She could be alone in this place. Denise stared at the mess at her feet. Almost done. Say the last part. Finish it.

"The next thing I remember, I woke up in a hospital. The war was over, they told me. They found us adrift, and rescued us. Fifteen of us, out of fifty. The pilots, the station--"

My parents.

Denise snapped her head up. "They said the war was over, just like that. They told me the Minbari surrendered. They never said why. So I'm asking--why? Why did you do it?"

The Minbari ambassador stepped forward. "Ms. Laramie--"

"It was an accident." She rode right over the ambassador's attempt to speak. "Everyone knows that. Self-defense. One man dies and you try to kill an entire race?" Her voice cracked.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Security moving forward. They would take her away, lock her up--she didn't care. Not anymore.

"Why? Was it just a fucking game for you? Shooting fish in a fucking barrel?"

Security was almost on her now, so close, and she still didn't have her answer.

"Tell me," she shouted at Ruthvyn. "Tell me why they all had to die, you fucking butcher! TELL ME!"

"That's enough, miss, you're going to have to come with me--"

Denise wheeled around to face the security officer. "Don't you touch me!"

The starburst razor burned in her gut, hot as the welding tool she used on the probes. Her insides were going to fuse together into one shapeless lump and drag her under, but she just didn't care.

"Miss, don't make this harder, just come with me--"

No, no, she wasn't leaving without her answer! Fifteen years, that
was long enough to wait. Not one minute more--

Her knees buckled, the security man caught her before she hit the deck.
Her stomach was on fire, so hot, the people around her must see it glowing, burning her up from the inside.

"On your feet now," he began.

The razor star went nova. Something tore loose inside, and thick, bitter blood pushed up her throat. She coughed, spat a mouthful of red across the security guard's uniform. He recoiled and she fell, face down in the pool of oil and glass shards, struggling to breathe.

"Ah, shit, call Medical!"

The burning stopped, the blood put out the fire. From a great distance, Denise saw someone bending over her. Dark, alien eyes.

You didn't answer my question, she thought dizzily, before the lights went out for good.

[end part one] J.fJf p-@`Y/.?//.Hnp////<#p* >fh gdY/.0fpfBGJ.g-n`p-@(.Jl D(JGgp-@J g n gpfp` &U?0< xNTOL