Fandom: Babylon 5
Characters: Vir (with Londo, Susan, and assorted LoF characters making cameo appearances)
Prompt: 093- Thanksgiving
Word Count: 1727
Rating: General Audience
"At year's end, we count how many of our people survived, and celebrate our good fortune!"
-Vir, The Parliament of Dreams
As Vir comes of age, the Celebration of Life – the annual time of thanksgiving - takes on a deeper, more complex meaning.
Spoilers: Knowledge of the entire series and the Legions of Fire novels is assumed.
It is the beginning of the year 2258. Nearly ten billion Centauri are still alive on a dozen different worlds. And one, a chubby southern provincial boy, has begun to lose his fear.
Vir opened the doors to the reception hall himself, and now he sits with his ambassador at the banquet table, the air around him thick with the smell of brivari. The smell is so strong, in fact, that it threatens to send him into a fit. Yet Vir still laughs and claps in delight when a group of lithe, nimble dancers twirls past the table trailing shining streamers of purple and gold behind them.
Then a roar of hilarity erupts by Vir’s ear, and before he has time to recover from the jolt and reach for another pastry, he finds himself locked in a tight embrace. "And you," the ambassador says with the deliberation of the experienced drunk, his accent slightly more pronounced than usual. "What have I done to deserve you, hm? My blessing! My treasure!" Vir opens his mouth to respond, but he is stopped short when Londo grabs his face and plants a rough and sloppy kiss on his forehead. Vir blushes a brilliant shade of crimson, and Londo’s laughter once again rumbles through the hall.
"I think he likes you."
Vir turns to find Susan Ivanova watching him with a very lovely smile. Immediately, he ducks his head and demurs. "He’s drunk."
Still, that night, as Vir sits for a time in Londo’s quarters and listens to him snore, something in his heart unlocks.
It is the beginning of the year 2260. A little more than ten billion Centauri are still alive on twenty-eight different worlds - but millions of Narn have perished. When it is quiet, Vir can still hear G’Kar’s blood dripping - dead, dead, dead - onto the deckplate.
Vir leaves the mission and the Celebration within, pulling the hood of his cloak up against the twilight breeze. Thentok has been over-zealous with the incense, and Vir can feel an attack creeping up on him, closing its fingers around his throat. Desperately needing distance, he walks into the garden until he is lightheaded, then sits, hard, on the rim of a fountain, his hand splayed against his chest.
When at last Vir dares to straighten, he notices, for the first time, the beauty of the gathering night. Hanging just above the mountains, Minbar’s sun shimmers through the crystalline towers of Yedor, splashing soft color across Vir’s face. And if he remains still, he can almost hear the trees sing with the wind, joining the bubbling fountain in a quiet duet. Gradually, as the violet of the sky deepens, something in Vir melts, and the quivering in his hands fades away.
"Are you well, Ambassador Cotto?"
As quickly as it had disappeared, Vir’s self-consciousness snaps back into place and he scrambles to his feet, rubbing at his suddenly burning eyes. "Bratenn! You-you startled me."
"My apologies," the Minbari replies with a subtle dip of his head. "I saw you leave the festivities, and I was concerned. I did not intend to frighten you."
"Oh, it’s all right. I-I-It’s not your fault. It’s my fault really. My mind was wandering, you see, and I – " Vir halts the flow of speech at once when he realizes he is babbling. Taking a deep breath, he starts over. "I-I’m all right. I just needed some air." He smiles sadly. "It was just… a little too much fun.
"And… and out here," Vir adds, his hands taking in the fading light of the garden, "it’s so… beautiful. And quiet. I just wish – " Londo could see it, Vir’s mind whispers, but his mouth fails to form the words. An ache blossoms at the center of Vir’s chest, but if Bratenn notices any outward sign of this, he does not say. Instead, he respectfully bows, tells Vir that he will leave him to his own reflection, and retreats.
An hour later, Vir scrubs his face in the fountain and returns to the mission.
It is the end of the year 2262. Nine and a half billion Centauri are still alive on eleven worlds. Just weeks before the Celebration, an acrid cloud of smoke hangs over a wounded city.
Vir steps off his transport and into a vast ruin. Broken, jagged buildings line city avenues as far as the eye can see and beyond, their roofs torn open to the sky and smoldering. Some of these buildings are marked with Centauri symbols drawn with luminescent paint: "No survivors remain." Taking this in, Vir swallows hard and continues forth, his boots squelching in the black water that runs through the rubble-strewn street. In the distance, the palace still stands, and this sustains Vir’s hope that his friend is all right.
At the outskirts of the city, the people Vir pass move slowly, living in the ether between shock and grief where there is nothing left but a determination to survive. But as he nears the imperial grounds, the pace of the city quickens. Expectant crowds are gathering outside the palace. They are waiting for succor. For an explanation. For a call to arms. Vir can hear these things in snippets of conversation he manages to decipher between civil defense alarms. The people will not be happy with the terms of their government’s surrender.
One group of men is gathered by a shattered fountain; they are pulling something out of the fetid water. It is a long moment before Vir realizes that it is a body they are recovering, boiled beyond recognition, its ruin of a mouth frozen open in a silent scream. Gagging, Vir turns away and breaks into a stumbling run.
"Have you seen the damage?" Londo asks Vir when Vir finds him at last. There is a new despair in Londo’s eyes- and a light of terror as well. But billions of Centauri still live, including Londo Mollari. All of this can still be fixed.
It is the beginning of the year 2271. Nine and a half billion Centauri are still alive. But some have died tonight. Vir Cotto was their executioner.
As Finian and Gwynn concentrate to maintain the illusion camouflaging their ship, Vir watches flaming ash billow into the atmosphere over Morbis, his expression grim. The sight seems horrifyingly out of place beside the broadcast, shimmering on a nearby viewscreen, of Minister Vallko’s sermon to the populace on the eve of this year’s Celebration.
"Do we have any idea…?"
"No," Renegar replies, and Vir’s shoulders slump as if his strings have been cut. They had all agreed to strike at night to minimize casualties. Still, the uncertainty of the death toll sits at the bottom of Vir’s stomach like a cold, hard knot.
At K0643, the laborers had been innocent, many with few back home to mourn them. Vir has no reason to believe that the laborers at the munitions plant here are any different. He wonders about their names, their dreams, the things and people they love. He wonders if any on the night watch have survived the initial blast and now lay trapped, waiting to die. He imagines he can see these supine, injured men, their eyes wide in fear and pain as flames lick at their charred clothing and flesh, and he closes his eyes.
"Set us down," Vir says, his voice quiet, yet absolutely clear.
"Are you mad?" Gwynn instantly demands, and Vir is more than a little pleased to see that he has caught the normally imperious technomage off guard. "If you are spotted at the scene of the sabotage, it will raise suspicion."
"Then you’ll have to make sure I won’t be seen," Vir counters reasonably. "If you can hide your ship, surely you can hide a man. Or," he adds, "you could just put a bag over my head. It’s not as if we haven’t done that before." Gwynn looks as if she has more to say, but Vir straightens to his full height, his voice rising. "I left an innocent man to die alone on K0643, Gwynn. I won’t do that again. Not here. Not today."
"Cast your eyes to the stars," Vallko’s voice thunders over cheering crowds, "and know that the gods have bequeathed those stars to us. We have been called to count our blessings and know that they are many, for the Great Maker’s favor shines upon the Republic - "
Vir shuts off the broadcast and fixes his companions with a determined stare. He has been called to count the dead, for through their sacrifice, a war for the soul of a world has begun.
It is the year 2278. The Centauri are still alive.
The palace doors have been thrown open, and a newly crowned emperor sits with his people at the banquet table. He watches the shifting patterns of color in the room- the flashes of shimmering silk, the rich brocades, the dark velvet cloaks, the occasional twinkle of a gem- and he smiles. Tonight, they have all dressed in their best- even the lowest born- and the room is suffused with a determined gaiety.
Outside, an icy wind whistles through seared, broken streets, tearing off the remains of tattered curtains in abandoned windows and scattering debris down dark alleyways. Throughout the city, ceremonial lanterns wink out, their delicate globes shattered by stones and dust. But inside the palace, it is warm, and the air is filled with music. The great hall smells of soap and linfra oil and incense and freshly baked bread.
Vir turns. By the table stand his old friend, Adi, and his wife, Amari. Amari is cradling a bundle in her arms. "Is that…?" Vir breathes, and Adi graces him with a crooked grin. Vir rises and with hesitant fingers peels aside layers of soft blankets until he reveals the face of a newborn infant within.
"He was born two days ago," Adi tells Vir, his voice softened with paternal pride.
Adi’s sleeping son snuffles, pursing his lips twice. He is flushed a healthy shade of pink, and he smells of powder. "He’s beautiful… I mean, handsome… I mean… he’s perfect," Vir stammers, suddenly overcome, his eyes flooded with tears. Then his smile broadens, and he takes hold of one tiny hand.
"And Andra was wondering if there was anything left to celebrate."