The main Anla'shok facility at Tuzanor was an architectural mess. A mish-mash of baby-blue crystal towers melded with the darker, sensibly-green buildings of the post-war period. The original building had long been swallowed in the ballooning need for renovation and the human craving for expansion. Half of the compound had burned during the Civil War, and the designers had left a section in ruins as a "memorial," while nearby workers currently were engaged in completing the new additions Entil'zha had commissioned for the expansion of Ranger membership to other races. Everywhere, a new architectural masterpiece touched the sky -- everywhere, post-war utilitarianism touched the old crystal innocence that had once characterized the holdings before Sinclair.
Inside, it wasn't much better. In many cases, different buildings from different ages had been melded together with little regard for interior decoration, and the result was a color scheme that, in some cases, approached schizophrenia.
David and Sarah passed from one building to another, from subdued sage carpeting to a riot of tile and color -- the living area for Rangers who called no ship home and instead worked a desk or taught trainees the art of war. Double doors on the left led to one of the complex's numerous mess halls. Outside them were gathered a gaggle of Minbari, among the throng Mural, who quieted quickly once he saw the two turn the corner; the aide, wiry, nasal, and dressed in the nearly-formal robes that were almost foreign to the sensibilities of active-duty Rangers, flagged them down.
"Good evening, Captain," the ratlike Minbari said, folding his hands in front of him. "I thought you'd still be in -- debriefing right now."
Eyes in the group fixed themselves on the two men; David, uncomfortable, shrugged. "It's over," he said. "Now, if you'll excuse me." He stepped to the side, aiming to exit into a side hallway leading to the tarmac area.
He wasn't used to being notorious. Before the incident on the Enfalli, he was considered a promising young officer, fairly popular and well-known to the point where Rangers he didn't know hailed him by name in the hallway. The Council had had his name on the short list, and the Valen would have been his hadn't -- no. No matter what the Council said, no matter if he had been cleared or given the blessing of the godlike G'Kar, or even if he had been anointed in the temple by Entil'zha herself, among their ranks the Rangers remembered the Enfalli.
And they did not remember fondly. The eyes were not approving. They spoke, wordlessly, of cowardice.
As David moved away, Mural spoke carefully.
"We," he said, indicating the similarly-garbed Minbari around him -- "were just inquisitive as to why you even came to Tannier's death celebration."
Martel turned. "Stuck in that office of yours, Mural, you might not know of the human custom of paying one's respects to the honored dead."
A hum of voices from the crowd. Low Adronato swear words. They knew of the rivalry between Mural and Martel; they knew that the dry tinder between them wanted only a spark.
"The Rangers have no place for human customs," spat Mural, his face growing more sour than your average lemon. "We have no place for cowardice, which is the most human of customs."
At this point, Cantrell stepped forward, as she, Martel noted, was wont to do at such times. He could see the anger in her eyes -- and, while that was a very good thing in the weapons pod, he'd recieved a black eye the last time he'd attempted to extricate Sarah from a bar brawl. And Mural, for all the desk-work he did, remained an excellent fighter. "Let it go, Mural. The past is the past." She glanced up at David. "C'mon, we have the new weapons matrix to install. It'll take all night."
A group of humans who had just exited from the mess hall -- dressed in active-duty black -- caught Sarah's sentence and hooted lewdly; they dissappeared in the other direction.
"The past?" Mural said, softly, a glint in his eyes. "You should have no memories past that day on the Enfalli, Cantrell. You or your captain. That was your time to die. The One called you to service. And yet, you walk, you breathe, and Tannier is lost."
Martel spread his hands in a shrug. "I should get back to my ship, Mural," he said, indicating the direction in which he was going; dealing with an irrational Minbari was not exactly his idea of a good time.
"Your ship," spat Mural. "Your ship is a dung-heap, and your crew unworthy to be called Anla'shok. What are you waiting for? Go. Maybe you'll actually get it flying, which would be a miracle worthy of Valen himself."
He swept away down the sage-green corridor, taking a good amount of the crowd on his coat-tails. The rest of the crowd, having seen the altercation and sated by their share of conflict for the day, dissappeared into the mess hall; behind him, revealed by the dispersing crowd, was a troubled-looking Malcolm Bridges, staring at them.
"I'm a fucking albatross," he said, looking between the two.
Sarah's jaw softened. "No, you're not. Listen. I'll -- I'll run ahead and help Na'feel; no use wasting time yammering in the hallway. See you two later." She took off towards the tarmac as Malcolm calmly approached him.
"Sir," said Malcolm -- who was always a little more formal than the rest, despite having served a few tours of duty with David and Sarah -- "I'm fairly sure that was considered improper conduct." His eyes moved back to the space which Mural had polluted not a minute before.
Martel's response was a desultory shrug. "Yeah, well. Public opinion's harsh. I'm more interested in what you were just asked. It can't be worse than what they just put Sarah through."
Malcolm's eyes flickered, and a vaguely troubled look passed over his face for a moment -- which was all he would allow Martel to see. Inside, his stomach tightened, and a terrible nausea shot up into the back of his throat to join the bitterness there. "They asked about you," he answered, keeping his voice level.
The captain sighed and began to walk in the general direction of the tarmac. "Specifics, Malcolm," he responded, rubbing overtired eyes. "Stop squirming -- I can take it."
Malcolm nodded. "They were very interested in your command ability. What makes you tick as a captain. Whether you were -- fit for command, even."
"Great," said Martel. The headache flared. "They're attempting to psychoanalyze me through my covert ops officer."
"I wouldn't say that," Malcolm countered. "It was the little things that worried them. Like your temper."
"Ah," said Martel, flashing his crewman a smile. "So now they want to beat my only redeeming quality out of my insolent hide?"
"Most likely, sir," said Malcolm, quietly.
Martel passed the rest of the walk in thought; Malcolm, a few steps behind, felt himself slipping, found himself checking the back of Martel's neck for the telltale recursive spotting, his hand for the almost imperceptible shaking that followed extended quantium mania.
He saw nothing.