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."