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Into Thin Air

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"How's Ambassador Delenn?" Susan asked.

"She's recovering well," Marcus said. "She's a resilient woman." He tilted his head. "I like the new uniform; looks nice."

Susan ran her hand self-consciously down the center panel of the new jacket. She'd spent a good fifteen minutes the previous night just looking at the uniform from every angle in the mirror. The black fabric was soft, almost velvety under her fingers; the silver piping and the richly textured front panel gave the whole uniform an almost unreal feeling of class. She honestly felt nervous in it, still.

When she'd been a kid she'd dreamed of wearing an Earthforce uniform, or a pilot's flight suit like her brother. When she'd joined up and put her uniform on for the first time, it had felt like she was stepping into a movie, a larger-than-life version of herself.

Lennier had explained that the various threads and fabrics used to make their new uniforms had specific ritual properties and meanings, but they weren't her rituals, no matter how human the garment otherwise looked. Now when she looked in the mirror, she wasn't sure what kind of story she was in. Something where Minbari and Humans had to work together.

She supposed she'd get used to it pretty quickly. She'd be wearing it twelve hours a day, after all.

"We're all really grateful," she said for lack of anything better. "The Captain's right; it wouldn't have been right to keep wearing our Earthforce uniforms. Not until this is over." She looked up at him and tried smiling. "What about you? What did you think the first time you got your Ranger uniform?"

Marcus smirked and opened his mouth, then paused, frowning. "You know," he said in a voice she hadn't heard him use before, strained and quiet, "I kept seeing my brother in the mirror."

Susan froze. Remembered the first time she'd worn her flight suit; the last time she'd seen Ganya. "I know what that's like."

"Yes, well." And then he was his normal, chipper self again. "As I said, looks good on you. Distinctive."

"Mmm," G'Kar said as Londo finished straightening his coat. The Royal Court awaited their pleasure, and his bodyguard had taken it upon himself to 'help' with his final preparations. "I think your old coat suits you better."

Londo sniffed and adjusted his cuffs, gold braid glittering slightly in the light. "While the fact that you take an interest in court fashion delights me beyond all measure, G'Kar, I will be three months dead before I take fashion advice from a Narn."

G'Kar scoffed, then strolled over and pulled his old coat--the purple one with gold trim--off its hangar. "The clothes make the Centauri," he said. "As your bodyguard, I have to be aware of all threats to your person, including the sartorial. The signals you are sending could be deadly."

"Ah, moreso than the signals I am sending showing up with a Narn?" Londo huffed and brushed off his collar. "What do you mean?"

"Black is the color of neutrality in the Centauri Royal Court," G'Kar pontificated. "It's not claimed by any one house so it belongs to all. It's a safe choice and an expected one." He held up Londo's old coat and draped it against Londo's shoulder. "Purple is one of the colors of House Mollari. You're going to be Emperor Mollari soon. Fading into the background to fit in only makes you look weak, while displaying the colors of your House gives you a presence and a history. Don't give the vultures any reason to circle more than they have to."

Londo frowned. "And where did you learn the intricacies of Court fashion, mm?"

G'Kar shook his head. "A conquered people learn much for their own survival. Centauri thrive on appearances, so we learned to understand those appearances. And then ignored them."

Londo rolled his eyes. "Well, I do have to hand it to you, G'Kar. You do have a way with appearances. Except for one thing." He grabbed the purple coat and held it up. "The trim on the buttons, here? Is at least four years out of style." He scowled. "I think showing up looking as though I know nothing of Court fashion is a little more sartorially indiscreet than lacking the colors of my House, don't you think?"

"Ah," G'Kar said. He was staring away down at the floor, looking quite uncomfortable. "I suppose, yes."

Londo clucked his tongue and hung his coat back in the wardrobe. "Don't look so glum, G'Kar," he said. "In just a few minutes you'll get to correct some self-important courtier about some matters of spiritual improvement or public policy, and you'll be right as rain again, yes? Now come, we have an entrance to make." When he looked back, G'Kar was still looking unpleasantly downcast. "You're so upset about the coat? I give it to you. It's my first royal gift. Do with it what you will."

G'Kar perked up at that. "Really?"

"Anything you like," Londo said, spreading his hands. "My generosity in this matter is unlimited."

"Splendid," G'Kar said, brightening. "I have been looking for material for new hankerchiefs, Mollari, and you have provided it."

"Fah," Londo said, leading the way out the door. "Narns."

When Marcus awoke, the date they gave him didn't make any sense. Take the year of your birth, add the number of days you've been alive, and then pile another few hundred years on top of that--well, it was just impossible to comprehend.

Not that the people who had woken him up had been anything but kind about everything. And apparently he had a bit of a pension coming to him, so he wasn't going to be short on cash or anything. But as he wandered down the halls of the space station containing the laboratory where he had first drawn breath in this new century, he found himself less struck by the wonder of civilization and more consumed by an endless longing to see something, anything familiar.

Which is when he turned a corner and found himself face-to-face with a life-sized hologram of G'Kar.

"Well," he said to himself, "if that's not a sign, I don't know what is."

The space beyond the hologram was divided. Farther back he could see an open room with plain walls and dim red lighting--a Narn-style religious space, for meditation or dialogue on the sacred texts. In front, there were plaques and brochures in a dozen different languages, with a picture of G'Kar on the front and entreaties to read the Book spelled out in three different fonts.

"Have you heard the word of G'Kar?" asked a young Narn who had seen Marcus browsing.

"Oh, often," Marcus replied, idly flipping open a brochure in English. "Charming fellow, especially when you got him going about Narn cuisine." At the Narn's baffled look he shook his head. "Ah, sorry. So he wrote a book?"

"The Book of G'Kar," the Narn said with reverence, "is one of the greatest sources of enlightenment in the galaxy."

"Is it?" Marcus said. "Well, then I'd very much like to read it, if I can get a copy."

"We have three copies of the Book of G'Kar here," the Narn said with an air that implied three was an impressive number. "You can read one in the meditation chamber."

Marcus bowed and stepped inside. The chamber was warm and dry, and the red light was oddly soothing as he made his way to a table on which the copies of the book sat. Nobody else was taking the time to meditate; must have been a spiritual lunch break.

He sat down and opened the middle book of the three, then sighed as he made out the painstakingly copied handwriting. "Oh, G'Kar," he said. His voice sounded more melancholy than he'd expected, so he tried to brighten himself up. "Well, you're a published author, now, something of a celebrity it seems. Well done."

Marcus sighed and flipped through the pages. "I feel as though my life has rather been stalled out. I mean, I didn't have much planned beyond 'Die for Susan,' I suppose I can't complain about that. I mean, it seems to have worked, sort of." He shook his head. "Well, it's not my fault it wasn't permanent. How much can you expect out of one person's life energy? Obviously about that much!"

He flipped through the pages again randomly. "I suppose I just don't know what I'm doing here. It's impressive enough, coming back from the dead, but what do I do for an encore? I suppose Sheridan would have known, but I can't go asking him, can I?"

Marcus looked down at the book where his hand was brushing the page.

'The sacrifices that we have made are not in vain merely because we don't recognize what we have gained from them,' the text read. 'The devastation of our world, the ashes in our mouths, the deaths of our loved ones--these injuries cry out to the universe and reverberate amongst the stars. And the universe listens. Just as we have never stopped fighting because we have lost a battle, we must never stop rebuilding because we have lost a war. Our sweat and blood, our wounds and our lives--these things are paid in service to the rebirth of Narn, not to the destruction of our enemies. When we sow hate and discord we reap war and chaos. When we reach out our hands to the other, we are strengthened by their commitment. And in the fullness of time we will create the new world we are seeking."

Marcus read over the page a second time, then traced the strange circular stain through the center of the words. "Well, then," he said. "I suppose I can't argue with that, can I?"

And if the acolyte of G'Kar didn't understand why he was whistling cheerily as he left, well, it was always a pleasure to spread a little wonder in the universe.