Martel's office - spare, yellowish, and impeccably clean, except for a pair of mud-caked boots thrown in a corner, a large pile of downloaded notes shoved underneath a mobile terminal on the desk, and a half-eaten travel container of flarn perched precariously on the terminal interface - was the largest room on the Liandra save the bridge and the engine chamber.
Yet Martel still felt cramped.
A love for Minbari décor was an acquired taste, he reminded himself, as was coffee and flarn, having a gok for a pet and being able to tolerate idiots like Mural and Tannier. Patience and persistence generally did the trick -- get past the bitterness and the side-effects and you actually begin to like the torture, he often rationalized.
That was how Dulann found Martel fifteen minutes later: plowing through a report, his feet crowning the desk, a flarn cube halfway to his mouth. That was the definition of the word "comfortable," the captain had mentioned about three weeks before, although Dulann would not have agreed. To have the spine bent at that ridiculous angle and the legs thrown up in a position that was hardly defensible did not make the Minbari officer very comfortable.
It made Dulann nervous.
"You are extremely lucky that I am not one of the others," Dulann said, obviously amused. He walked over, pulled up the only other chair in the room, and sat down. "You know that a certain level of decorum must be maintained."
Martel chewed, swallowed, and offered his first officer the rest of his dinner wordlessly.
"I just returned from my appointment," Dulann continued, shaking his head. "You have, as you say, pushed more than a few buttons."
This amused Martel; he laughed softly. "So, they want me cashiered, don't they?"
"I am not at all sure that is what they want," answered Dulann. "If they wanted you out of the Anla'shok, be assured that you would be looking for other employment at this very moment. Grayson Maddox is not without connections among the Ranger Council - and the Council does not keep those who could be a liability to the Rangers."
"Something else, then." The human was quiet for a moment, sighing. "Maybe they're getting ready to slide me into the position of official whipping-boy, Dulann. God, I'll be glad to fly again. Get out of Tuzanor." He regarded his dinner. "And, damn it, I hate flarn. So - what do you have?"
Dulann turned on one heel, walking to the back of the office, where a number of power-leveled readouts hovered at green. He paused, and looked over his shoulder. "They began by asking me to verify a number of facts - logs, debriefings, all from the last mission of the Enfalli and our encounter with the Hand vessels near Beta Durani 7," he said, quietly turning back to regard the readouts. "They were concerned with your capacity as a captain - "
"That's news," snorted Martel, shoving another piece of flarn into his mouth.
"- and," Dulann continued, "asked, in my capacity as your first officer, why you ran - like a coward."
"I knew they wanted to cashier me."
"I still do not think so."
Martel pushed himself out of his seat and crossed the room to join Dulann at the console. "What am I supposed to think, Dulann? It's clear they're out to shatter what little respectability I have left - cowardice here, disloyalty there, improper conduct with female members of my crew to boot, if you're absolutely delirious -- and now they're adding something close to treachery to the list of charges." He paused, fire flickering at the edges of his eyes. "Why is the Oversight Committee interested at all in the sordid affairs of one of the Rangers' least important members? If I'd done anything wrong, it would be a matter for the Ranger Council, or Sindell, or - hell - or Anla'shok Na, not for a civilian committee whose duties are largely ceremonial."
"I believe," Dulann observed, "that you need to sleep. I think you are, as you say, 'barking up the wrong tree.' I believe they are concerned about your experience on Nesma."
"I do not," Martel countered, "need to sleep. I need to --"
And for the first time that day, Martel was silent.