They were busy with languages that day, and it was very interesting, and it was more interesting than watching the training flights which is what they usually did, though these days they weren’t just training flights anymore. They were going out to fight, to destroy people called humans, and Lennier and the other children of the temple had never even heard of them. Humans. He didn’t know what they looked like. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to. None of them did, at least not here, not in this temple.
He watched the training flights at night when they were all supposed to be sleeping. The others watched, too, because they were all afraid, afraid to see the warriors take off into the sky and then hear news of their deaths, and they were just children but would have to help in the funeral rites anyway. They didn’t like it. But it was during the war and no one liked what had to be done during the war. It would be over someday, anyway, wouldn’t it? Perhaps the humans would give up. Maybe they would be destroyed.
He didn’t like that notion, either, but it was whispered among the teachers when they thought the students could not hear, and it was on the lips of the warrior caste when they came for blessings at the temple.
But he should be studying, not thinking about war. Studies were the one place the war couldn’t reach. The equations he studied were constant and had nothing to do with these humans, and the history was…already done, and would never be done the same way again, and it was unique and understandable and fascinating in its closed sameness.
Now they were studying languages. The others had their heads bent over their work, too, but Lennier had it spread all over the desk, three different books from the temple library and eight more from the library at the next temple, and one from Tuzanor that they brought special for Noli who had a gift for languages. They rolled off her tongue like water and she was fluent in all three by now and learning dialects faster than anyone. She let him borrow this book. It was very special, to have come here all the way from Tuzanor.
She was studying something else, and was about to ask her a question when the door opened and two older masters entered. They were worried and tense, one warrior, and Master Forin, who knew everything, or at least as much as anyone who was not Grey could know everything. The warrior was whispering fiercely and then he turned and left, and Master Forin sighed, leaning against the wall, and for a moment looked very old. None of the students looked directly at them (that would be terribly disrespectful) but some glanced out of the corner of their eyes and others stole glances when Master Forin turned back to the door. Lennier didn’t look because he knew it would be inappropriate, and Master Forin would tell them if it was necessary. He stared harder at the language book, though he didn’t understand this part and wanted to ask Noli.
Master Forin walked back to the front of the class, his back towards them. He did not say anything for a very long time, so long that even the students knew something was wrong. Finally he called two names, Lennier and Noli, and asked for them to walk with him.
Noli stood up immediately but Lennier didn’t, still focused on the book in front of him, not wanting to stand. What could Master Forin want from him? He had been studying lately, just as much as everyone else, and even staying up late and watching the warriors fly off, he had still done the studies he was supposed to. He didn’t let anything get in the way, not war and not death, because that was how it was supposed to be, right? The warriors fight, the workers build, and the religious pray. He prayed, too, same as the rest, and lit the candles every night and said what he was supposed to no matter how tired or how sad…
“Now, Lennier,” Master Forin insisted, and Lennier got up an followed, leaving the book behind. It didn’t matter how much he did or did not want to walk with their teacher.
Noli was twisting the sleeve of her robe around in her fingers and glanced at Lennier, and he saw more nervousness in her eyes than he wanted to, and wondered for a moment if that was reflected in his. He didn’t know what Master Forin wanted. He was afraid to know, now, when he saw how quickly Forin was walking and how fast he and Noli had to walk to stay caught up. She almost tripped several times but Forin did not slow down, and Lennier had to help her when she stumbled.
He tried to gauge what was going on by the expressions on people’s faces, and it had to be something terrible…some looked worried, some scared, some angry…some even furious, and he had never seen true fury on the faces of the others at temple.
“Stop gazing around,” whispered Noli, tugging on Lennier’s sleeve. He hadn’t even noticed he stopped.
“Look at Master Sarit. He appears to be quite furious.”
Noli wouldn’t have stopped either, but she did, when she saw Master Sarit. He had been irritated before, but never angry…never that angry.
Master Forin turned around when he realized they were no longer following him. He didn’t have to say anything, merely look impatient, and the two took their gazes from Master Sarit (lest he see them staring, and then he would have every right to be angry, because they were old enough to know better) and hurried after Master Forin. There were others along the way who looked just as furious as Sarit, and one who looked at him and Noli with a vaguely sympathetic expression.
Master Forin opened the doors into one of the smaller temple gardens. The trees weren’t in bloom this time of year, but the smaller shrubs were, and Noli picked at a large, blossoming green flower dangling mnear her hand. The southeast dialect of Adronato called that flower an akaly while the southernmost dialect referred to it as a nakam, and neither of those words meant the same when translated to middle…
“I’m sorry,” Master Forin said, sitting down on an intricately carved bench on the other side of the plant. “I am even sorrier you had to learn of this before the rest of the students did. But it only seemed right that you know.” His voice was solemn and he looked at Lennier, and Lennier dropped his gaze before Master Forin could tell he was looking. Lennier studied the loopy, curved carvings on the bench instead, not wanting to think of Master Forin’s eyes a moment before and how sad they looked.
“What’s wrong with telling everyone at the same time?” Noli asked. When he glanced at her, she was looking up, right at Master Forin. It was terribly rude, but Master Forin wasn’t objecting.
“The Black Star was destroyed.” Forin said, then, and this time he could not look at Noli. “Everyone aboard was killed.”
They waited for Master Forin to say something more, but he didn’t, he just sighed and looked even more sad, and tired, and he picked up a green blossom and stared at it more intensely than Noli had.
“That’s not possible,” Lennier whispered, and he knew it wasn’t because the Black Star was one of their best ships, and Noli’s parents were on it, and Lennier’s sister and mother were on it, and he saw them, when, three weeks ago? They spoke of the war and how important it was for their people, how deeply they believed in the cause…the humans, Morisen said, they killed Dukhat, who else would they kill? How many thousands of others? All life is sacred, Lennier, and if we have to fight for that…
“It shouldn’t have been.” Master Forin agreed. “They led our ship into an asteroid field with a false distress signal, and triggered hidden nuclear explosives at the moment the ship was going to fire. There was no chance of survival for the ship and no survivors found.”
Lennier looked down at his hands, still folded in his lap, and calculated all that was needed for Master Forin to be correct…if the explosives were detonated within fifty seconds after the weapons prepared to fire, then it would take two explosives that yielded roughly twenty-three and…yes, point two five…
“Twenty-three and point two five…no, Master Forin, I don’t believe that is correct.”
Noli was looking at him uncomfortably. Perhaps she did not understand the equation? It was quite simple, they had learned it last year. Maybe he had gotten the answer wrong, and it was actually forty-three point two five…yes, that was an easy mistake to make.
“Lennier, they’re all dead,” Noli whispered, her voice too soft and her hands clenched too tight together, impossibly white, and all the color had gone from her lips. She was always bright and energetic and challenged the teachers, especially in language, and Lennier still had her book from Tuzanor and desperately wanted to get back to it. “How is that possible? It’s not. They can’t be dead. They shouldn’t.”
“I miscalculated. Forty three point two five…”
“How can you count when they died?” Noli stood up and started to walk out of the garden, but stopped when she saw that Master Forin had not done the same. She clasped her hands together in front of her and looked down at her shoes.
“It was an impossible situation.” Master Forin replied. “It was something that should never have happened. But we have learned that humans are dishonorable, willing to use trickery to achieve their ends, and are subversive as well as cruel and have no respect towards our people. We had known this from the start. This…it confirms it. But it shouldn’t.”
The Black Star was one of the largest ships. The humans were capable of murdering that many people in such a manner. Master Forin was right. That was what the warriors were so furious about, and what Master Sarit was…Master Sarit hated them, Lennier could see that in his eyes. And when Noli turned around, he could see she hated them, too.
But they couldn’t be dead. Lennier had not finished his calculations, and…no one left and died, not during this war, especially not on a ship as large and as well equipped as the Black Star. The odds of that happening were…were…he should calculate that, right now.
The numbers wouldn’t come, then. They were suddenly cut off from his mind, and he couldn’t remember if it was twenty-three or forty-three, and he couldn’t see anything except the hem of his robes and the dark color of his shoes because his eyes were suddenly blurred from tears and he didn’t know where they came from.
Perhaps the universe had some greater purpose for them, some reason why Morisen and Tellar should die. Why else would it happen? Death was not something to be feared, it was a noble end to a noble life. But he couldn’t convince himself of that now, and was ashamed, because he should know better. It was hard to know better when they were dead and should not be, and should be home in a few weeks…or at least a message, just one, because Tellar always sent him messages of interesting things she found that she knew he would enjoy as well. He started studying dialects based on something she said. She was better at languages than Noli and had so much to tell him and promised to come to the temple the next time she was close.
They had to light the candles tonight, himself and Noli. The other young acolytes stood with them, though slightly apart, because grief could only be shared so much. The adults led the prayers and Lennier found himself speaking along with them, but he didn’t recognize his voice...or the voice of the others, for that matter. They were dead too, their voices. And it was the same through the temple, and if the warriors were any example, it was the same all over the world. The Minbari lost their voice today.
For three days Lennier hardly slept. He tried to, but it all ended the same, with Morisen and Tellar’s faces in flames, skin cracked and bleeding, or floating in space with their eyes glazed…they said his name and Noli’s but as soon as his fingers touched theirs, they screamed and were gone, and he was awake in the room with tears on his cheeks. He heard the others wake sometimes and cry quietly when they thought no one was awake to listen. Lennier listened when that happened, and he sat by them, and there was no need to speak because they all knew the grief and terror and had the same dreams, and there were times Lennier thought a thousand people over the world were having the same dreams and sat up at night wishing for their families to return.
They were given a name, finally. The human in charge of the destruction was named Sheridan. He knew exactly what he was doing when he led the Black Star to its death and the one they called dishonorable, calculating and cold…and he heard the warriors whisper a name (Starkiller, it was) and when they spoke it their voices quivered in hate. It was not long before the teachers spoke that way, and the others in temple, and even the students…and even Noli, her enthusiasm gone now.
Lennier thought of Morisen and Tellar and the others, all of them, quite often. He thought of the others that died in the stars, and the fact that there was truly an enemy now…a human that could destroy and kill and have no mercy. It was something they never expected, not in this war.
He hated Sheridan, then, because they all did.