The noble Ivanova was known as the Strong, for she was strong in heart and in mind, in body and in faith.
-The Book of the Third Age
Standing here today, on this balcony, overlooking her newly commissioned Rangers, Susan Ivanova has faith in the future.
The shining young people standing before her are waiting to go out into the universe and make a difference. Young people of all species standing proudly in their Ranger uniforms, so sure that they are ready for anything. They are as ready as she can make them. It's not ready enough, but it's the best she can do. At least they know there is an enemy out there that they will have to face. It's more than she knew when she first came to Babylon 5.
They are the first class to graduate under her sole authority. Her Rangers. She has faith that they will accomplish the task at hand. More so than any of her pilots or crew, she feels connected to them. Responsible for them.
So many of her Rangers--new and old--are broken. They come from all over these days. There is even a Centauri in the incoming class. One of Vir's nephews or cousins or something like that, an eager young man by all reports. Too many others, though, have come to her hand through war, through fear, through pain.
Being Anla-shok Na is more than just being a General. That, at least, she has her fill of. Besides a military leader, she is a diplomat and a teacher, a parent and a drill sergeant, an ambassador and a counselor. She attends a surprising amount of weddings and baby naming ceremonies, and a regrettable amount of funerals.
The newly minted Rangers from more exuberant cultures hug her or shake her hand, while the Minbari simply bow before filing out. Tonight, Tuzanor will be filled with music and jubilant graduates. Even the Minbari will dance and sing in the streets. Isilmer, her new second, young and eager, simply points out it is traditional.
Delenn presents her with her own Blue Star later that night after the carousing dies down. "It is customary," Delenn assures her. Ivanova has heard that word enough today to wonder if Minbari ever do anything out of the ordinary, but of course Delenn herself is the exception that proves the rule.
"We have named it Gagarin, after your countryman who first went into space," Delenn explains.
"I'm touched. The White Stars all had numbers," Ivanova points out, inquisitively.
"It is traditional, since the time of Valen, for the Anla-shok Na's ship to be named," Delenn says with a sly smile.
"So, we're blaming this one on Sinclair, then," Ivanova says, returning Delenn's smile.
"That is, perhaps, accurate."
Quiet on Minbar sounds wrong to Ivanova. No crickets, no background hum of generators, none of the noises she's used to in the other places she has called home. Quiet on Minbari is filled with the calls of temshwee and glassy clinks of wind chimes. It's a subtle reminder that she'll never go back to Earth, and that hurts somewhere deep in her Russian soul.
Minbar is supposed to be a fresh start, but it's almost like going back in time. Retracing her own steps. Even the uniform feels familiar. Feels right, in a way the Earthforce uniform never had the second time around.
Back in Earthforce, surrounded by humans, she'd come to miss the diversity of aliens on Bablyon 5. On Minbar, she's the alien, at least when she ranges outside Tuzanor. Here, her Rangers come from almost as many species as Babylon 5 had ever seen walk down its halls. There is a Pak'ma'ra in the current class and one of Isilmer's aides is Drazi. Narn have flocked to the ranks.
G'nath is the latest. He is a follower of the Book of G'kar, and has a bit of hero worship when it comes to her. It doesn't help, she supposes, that she's mentioned by name in his holy book, though the thought of being considered even remotely a holy figure by the Narn is a bit disconcerting. She sends him to Isilmer, knowing her second will make sure he comes through his training with a less naive view of the world.
Delenn, at least, is the only one who ever calls her Entil'Zha. "For you truly will make the future, and not ride on the currents of destiny as all the rest of us do." To the rest she is simply Anla-Shok Na. As Zathras would've said, "Not the One." She is remarkably okay with that.
She doesn't want to be remembered as anything other than a good soldier. It is enough that her Rangers have faith in her. No one else need remember her at all.
Ivanova goes to temple with Delenn sometimes. Minbari religion is all about the practice, the ritual. Correct deed and movement. Group action over individual belief. There is a certain flow to the movements and she can lose herself in it on a good day.
The Vorlons shaped the Minbari into a single, unified people. One religion, one tradition. So very different from the fractious and often competitive faiths of Earth.
The Captain--she still calls him that in her head sometimes, even though he is long gone and President besides--was raised in one of the Christian sects, and Delenn is fascinated by the differences in the human religious traditions, even still. Sometimes after temple, Delenn will follow her back to her quarters and they will talk about her Judaism, and John's Christianity and all the chaotic permutations of religion on Earth. Other times they sit silently and drink tea. Usually, they are interrupted by a crisis before either happens.
Today's crisis is the result of a little fishing trip Isilmer and G'nath had taken out past Vorlon space.
Back on Babylon 5, before the war, either one, Ivanova had spent a good deal of her free time in Docking Bay 13. She was never Kosh's favorite, not like John, but there in that docking bay, she had always felt serene, almost safe. In the War--they're calling it Great these days, but it wasn't; she was there, she should know--she'd been the spare. The one who would step up if John had fallen. John didn't fall--thank Londo's Great Maker and Delenn's Universe and her own childhood God and anyone who will listen--and she was never called upon to lead the Army of Light into war.
Vorlon technology still seems to like her, though. She wonders if all that time spent with Kosh's ship has done something to her; Vorlon systems, even the ones on Minbari ships, are instinctive to her. At the time, she'd assumed they were instinctive to everyone, but Marcus had put paid to that notion. The Vorlon systems on Minbari ships were so counterintuitive that some Rangers never managed to learn to use them properly at all.
Isilmer and G'nath bring back a damaged Vorlon scout ship, abandoned in the war. It lights up under her hands after remaining dormant for everyone else. In the back of her mind, she can feel its joy at her presence after such a long loneliness. They repair the vessel as best they can. Mostly, they provide a place for the ship to repair itself. Vorlon technology is still years ahead of even the Minbari's best tech. Ivanova supervises the project so no one gets any ideas about taking the ship apart, for research or any other purposes.
The ship yearns to return to its people. It's a feeling she can understand, so when the ship can once again achieve hyperflight, she takes out the Gagarin and escorts the ship to the Rim.
"Have faith your people are waiting for you," she says before the ship jumps away. She thinks she's even beginning to sound Minbari. "Good luck."
The last thing she feels before the ship disappears is hope and anticipation and gratitude and joy. And then she is alone.
When she tells Delenn, Delenn laughs and says to her, "Kosh needed John. He was a tool to the Vorlon, something necessary for the job at hand. I think, however, you he liked."
"His ship, maybe. When I couldn't sleep, I used to go sit next to it. Sometimes, I would even fall asleep there, leaning against its hull." Ivanova has long since ceased to be embarrassed by anything with Delenn. "I never set off its defenses, but the first time John got close, the ship had its guns trained on him immediately."
"John always did rush in where others feared to tread. It is a trait he passed down to David. I sometimes wish he had kept it to himself," Delenn says.
John is eleven years dead, but this doesn't stop the Minbari from having their rituals. Apparently, eleven is an important year for cases where the deceased's body is never found. Her presence is required at these rituals along with David's and Delenn's.
For the purposes of the Religious caste, she is Susan of the family Mir. For the purposes of her heart, she is too. Delenn is as close as she gets to family these days, though oddly enough her adoption makes her ritually both John's sister and his sister-in-law. Which she is sure he would find funny if he were here to hear about it.
By now she can move though the Minbari rituals with grace; she's done enough of them to follow along in her sleep if need be. Afterwards, they retire to Delenn's dwelling and sip the orange juice that David had personally fetched from Earth for the occasion.
"My dear Susan," Delenn says. "Life is full of strange things, is not?"
"That it is," she replies.
Ivanova visits Marcus' cryotube rarely. It is here on Minbar, now that Babylon 5 is gone, but visiting seems too much like dwelling on the past. Today, she does not mind the past so much. Marcus will not wake in her lifetime, though she has faith that eventually they will find a way to give him back the life he gave up for her.
Ivanova feels her age in her bones, no matter how she wraps herself against the cold of Minbar. She will pass soon, and her thoughts drift to such morbid topics more often these days.
John is gone, and Michael is dead. Jeff long ago disappeared into the past, to save them this future. Marcus, sacrificed, and Stephen lost to old age, of all things. G'kar and Londo had killed each other, just as Londo had always claimed they would. Vir rules what is left of the Centari Empire, trying desperately to rebuild his planet from the wrath of the Shadows. And then there is her: Anla-shok Na. Ranger One. She'll be the first human of the title to die as a human does. She won't be remade as a Minbari hero or go off past the Rim with the last of the Old Ones. They will bury her on Minbar, so far away from her beloved Russia, and the graves of her ancestors, and there she will rest.
Delenn will insist that the Rangers sit shiva for her, as well as all the Minbari rites. She's complained enough, good-naturedly of course, about Minbari rituals over the years for Delenn to know that they are not what she thinks of when she thinks about religion or faith.
Isilmer will take up the title she leaves behind. She trusts him to see that her Rangers are well taken care of. He is a good man, by anyone's standards.
G'nath will become his second, and will say the Narn funerary chants for her. Oddly, she has come to think of this as the most fitting send-off she could receive.
David, she knows, will be the one to drag them all back into motion again. She trusts him to keep her Rangers moving forward, and his mother from isolation.
She feels like she understands John better these days. She has made peace with death and when it comes for her, she will be ready to go. Ivanova is glad there will be no time travel or aliens to save her from her fate. She has faith death will be enough. She will enjoy the rest.
Ivanova dies on a Monday, Earthtime. She's always known Monday morning would be the death of her, though these days she'd been expecting to fall asleep and just not wake up. Even Minbari medicine can't keep her alive forever, and she wouldn't want it to anyway.
The records are not clear on Anla-shok Na Ivanova's last minutes. The Gagarin is destroyed, and the Anla-shok Na's shuttle is so damaged they are unable to retrieve any data from it. This much is clear: the Anla-shok Na went to the defense of a civilian transport. The transport was destroyed. Any enemy vessels which were not destroyed fled before the Rangers arrived.
When her Rangers find her shuttle, there is a single life sign. David hopes to find her alive, even though no one answers his hails.
He and G'nath board, hoping against hope, but the Anla-shok lies dead, arms folded peacefully in the traditional manner of Minbar. She is surrounded by three Minbari she must have tried to rescue. Only a single girl child of the Warrior caste remains alive, the rosh-ir of a newborn still tied around her tiny fist. G'nath cradles the child to his chest, as David arranges to take the Anla-shok Na's body home for burial.
After they land on Minbar, David brings the baby to his mother. "Suzotchka," he calls her.
Delenn smiles, and pronounces the girl "Mairenn," for she has no mother to give her a name. It doesn't matter, Suzotchka spreads through the Rangers like wildfire, and the nickname and the assumption that goes with it stick.
Delenn cannot prove the assumption true, nor does she want to. Mairenn should have a chance to grow into her own skin without the shadow of a giant hanging over her. She admits, when pressed, and only to David, that the child's soul is human and the spark in her eye pure Ivanova.
Delenn wishes for a peaceful life for the child, no matter whose soul she possesses. She fears it is not to be, but she has faith that no matter what happens Mairenn will survive it with grace and dignity, strength and faith. She lives just long enough to see Mairenn step into place held in remembrance of Neroon.
Delenn's own funeral is not well attended. It is a private occasion; just David and Mairenn, Isilmer and the priests.
"Rest in peace, Va'Delenn. I have faith we will see you again," Mairenn whispers as she stands beside David.
Ta'lon, the companion of G'kar, heard the holy G'kar say: The Minbari believe that we are the Universe trying to understand itself. I think this must be true, for why else would the universe repeat itself so, each time interrogating itself from a new perspective?
-The Hadith of G'kar