Fandom: Babylon 5
Prompt: 094 – Independence
Word Count: 1394
Rating: General Audience
A young Vir runs away from home.
Pre-series. Originally written for theatrical_muse.
Ambassador Peter Bailyn of the Earth Alliance sat down on a large, moss-covered rock and lit a cigarette, closing his eyes to listen to the sounds of the river running nearby. The southern river valleys on Centauri Prime were actually astoundingly beautiful, but the noblemen he dealt with in this region of the planet never failed to fill him with tension and distaste. Petro Cesaro never let you forget that his house was once a royal house- and he put on the airs to match. And Bedras Cotto was a chilly being who oozed contempt from every pore. It was as if the worst that Centauri Prime had to offer in terms of personality and temperament had combined in the hearts of these two men.
Opening his mouth, Peter puffed out a perfect smoke ring that floated lazily into a large bush nearby. A cough shattered the usual pattern of sounds on the riverbank.
It took Peter by surprise. He had thought he was alone here.
Putting out his cigarette against the rock, Peter rose to his feet and carefully approached the coughing bush. Pushing back the leaves, he discovered a Centauri child curled up within its branches.
“Hello,” Peter said in Centauri. The simple word launched a small cataclysm. The child’s large brown eyes popped in fear and guilt and he tried to flee in a flurry of broken branches and torn leaves. Peter, however, was faster. Rounding the bush, Peter wrapped the boy up in a bear hug, arresting his progress. “Easy, son,” he soothed as the boy continued to strain against his arms. “I won’t hurt you.”
The boy slumped and Peter loosened his grip, gently turning the boy around to face him. It was then that Peter was hit by a flash a recognition. The earnest, chubby face was unmistakable. “You’re Vir, aren’t you? You work for Petro Cesaro.” Vir looked down at his feet and nodded.
”He’s just a child, Lord Cesaro.”
Peter had uttered the simple, quiet rebuke the day he came upon Cesaro loudly berating Vir for some unknown transgression. He wasn’t quite sure, but Vir appeared to be his grandson Zachary’s age, rapidly approaching early adolescence. But while Zachary set upon the world each day with a gusto that defined boys at that age on both planets, Vir seemed to live life in a perpetual cringe. It offended Peter’s sensibilities.
“Wh-wh-what were you… s-s-smoking?” The question was small and stumbling and uttered in English.
So that’s why Vir was here watching him: simple childhood curiosity. Smiling, Peter replied in his own tongue, “Tobacco. It’s a plant grown on my homeworld.”
“May I try it?”
“Oh, no. No, no, son. It’s very bad for you.”
“Then why do you smoke it?”
Peter laughed and rose from his crouched position, squeezing Vir’s shoulder. “I often ask myself the same question.” Peering up at the sky through the gaps in the trees, Peter estimated that there were three standard hours left before the Centauri sunset. Cesaro would certainly expect Vir to be home before dark. But before then…
“Well, young Vir, how would you like to join me for a late afternoon snack? We’ll talk and you can ask me any other questions you might have.”
“Yes, really. And you can tell me where you learned to speak my language so well. Did Cesaro teach you?”
There. A small flicker of well-deserved pride passed over Vir’s face. “Some. But I-I-I’ve also done a lot of studying on my own.”
The meeting that afternoon was the first of many as the months passed. At first, it was moral obligation that drove the Human ambassador, for it was very clear to Peter that Vir was profoundly starved of positive adult attention. But over time, Peter grew very fond of the eager student locked up inside Vir’s meek exterior and happily obliged whenever Vir brought another faded book to him or asked for another story about Earth or any of the other planets Peter had visited in his long diplomatic career.
“When I get older, I want to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Vir said one day after Peter had finished telling him about a vacation he had taken with his grandchildren on the North American continent on Earth. Vir was lying on his back amongst the river reeds, his eyes closed. “I-I want to travel all the places you’ve visited. I-I-I want to meet all the races you’ve met. I want to know how choc-o-late is made and I-I want to see the Rocky Mountains and I want to-“
Peter stilled the flood of enthusiasm by resting his finger lightly on Vir’s lips. “You can do anything you want to do, Vir, when the time comes.”
Vir opened eyes filled with sudden sadness and Peter was hit with the wrenching reminder that on this planet, that wasn’t exactly true for everyone.
In all the time Peter spent with the young Centauri, it had never occurred to him that one day he would have to leave. So when the communication announcing his reassignment arrived from Earth, he found himself in a terrible quandary. He had not prepared Vir for this eventuality.
“Why?” Vir asked when Peter told him. “Why are you leaving?”
“Because my government believes I’m needed elsewhere.” Two tears rolled down Vir’s face and Peter wiped them away with his thumbs. “Oh, don’t cry, son,” he said gently. “As soon as I find out where exactly I’m staying, I will tell you where you can contact me. Okay?”
Vir enveloped him in a fierce hug that Peter could still feel when he boarded his transport a day later and settled in for the monotony of hyperspace travel.
Another day had passed when Peter was jolted from his slumber by a commotion outside his state quarters. As he rose from his bunk, his door swished open, revealing a distinctly disgruntled Captain Gibbon. “Is there a problem, Captain?”
“You could say that, Ambassador. We found this youngster stowed away in the cargo hold. Perhaps you know what to do with him.” With that, Gibbon launched the youngster in question into the small room with a firm shove and closed the door behind him.
“Vir?” Peter breathed. “What in God’s name are you doing here?”
Vir open his mouth and promptly began to vomit on Peter’s shoes. On a grandfather’s instinct, Peter threw his arms around the boy and dragged him to his small washbasin, where he held Vir until he had finished. Then, after helping Vir to rinse out his mouth, Peter half-carried Vir to his bunk and eased him down on top of the covers.
A small sob escaped Vir and he pressed his crimson face into Peter’s pillow. “I-I-I’m sorry.”
“Shh. It’s all right. That can happen when you’re not used to zero-g.” Rubbing Vir’s back in slow circles, Peter asked again, “Can you tell me what you’re doing here?”
“I-I-I want to travel with you.”
Between hiccups, Vir told Peter about how he climbed out of his bedroom window in the middle of the night and walked the four miles through the woods to the valley’s one landing pad. About how he hid inside the atmospheric transport that was scheduled to take Peter to the ship waiting for him in orbit and how he evaded capture when that transport docked and the cargo and passengers were transferred. It was strangely brave, what Vir did, but it was also very, very dangerous and foolish and Peter told him so.
“This is very serious, Vir. You’ve put me in a very difficult position and you’ve put yourself in danger. I will have to ask Captain Gibbon to return to Centauri Prime.”
Vir sat up unsteadily and took hold of Peter’s arm. “No! Please, I don’t want to go back. Don’t make me go back, please. I-I-I want to go with you.”
Peter sighed and rested his hands on Vir’s shoulders. “I think your family would miss you, Vir.”
Vir’s reply echoed through Peter’s head all through the return journey to Centauri Prime, all through his apologetic meeting with the incensed Cesaro and Cotto, and for several days afterwards. It was the voice given to his life’s one true regret.
“No.” Peter had never heard so much sadness packed into such a simple, one-syllable word. “No, they won’t.”