Yes, not a Star Trek piece, but a short story based in my favourite TV series, Babylon Five
. I actually wrote this two years ago, as part of a multi-piece, multi-author project that never got off the ground. I think now's a good ti9me to share it.
If you don't know your B5, I'm afraid it will very difficult to understand what's going on. For those who do, this is a Londo Mollari piece, set on a very important day in our favourite Centauri's life...
Forgive and Forget
The palace was not what it used to be. Too much shadow, too much dust. Too much substance to the air, the very atmosphere of the place, as though it were thick and heavy. Belthus Gerani would not stand for it. For generations, his family had been established in the court, and never before had it been reduced to – to this
. He would not, of course, presume to critique the current establishment openly, such was not his place, and yet his disapproval was strong. Standing in the Hall of Reflection, he examined the statuette perched proudly on the wooden pedestal, a representation of Malthinial, God of Self-Knowledge. A fine work of the Durani artisans, dating back to the Greater Manifest Era: a most appropriate decoration for this hall. Reflecting on past glories was all the Centauri had left. Of all the pantheon, Malthinial was perhaps the most difficult to define, the deity most effectively eluding quick evaluation. A god that did not demand
, but truly required
respect, and yet so often neglected. It was...humbling...to consider him. Gently, Gerani ran his brush over the stonework, chasing out the dust.
His musings were interrupted by the bell. A summons; His Majesty was calling again. Gerani put down his brush and made for the throne room. Promptness was not merely a virtue, after all, but a requirement. Yet, Gerani found more and more frequently of late that it was a requirement he could do without. It was not permitted for something as unseemly as overt emotion to cross his features while answering a summons; still, as he moved to perform his duty, he experienced an almost visceral - and borderline treasonous, to his chagrin (though that was another emotion he wouldn’t actually show) - response. It may not have been represented in the modern Centaurum, but House Gerani was long established, and with seniority came the privilege of judgement. To deny the impulse would be to forget his place just as surely as if he were to ignore the royal summons; indeed it would be offensive to his own House. And he was nothing if not sensitive to their needs. To that end, Gerani permitted himself to register a momentary unsavoury feeling in reaction to the Emperor. It was almost...disgust.
His Majesty had been drinking, of course. He sat, slumped, on his throne, the magnificence of his royal garments offset by his aged figure. Here he looked nothing like the proud leader whose face graced the coinage, nor the haughty Lord whose portrait hung in House Gerani’s central hall - though not in a position of favour, it had to be noted. Instead, he was almost disappointing. In one gloved hand he held, not a glass, but a bottle. The glass was there, Gerani saw, perched delicately atop a nearby table. It had simply been placed aside, forgotten in favour of imbibing directly from the source. Of late, it had become well known that His Majesty had a habit; an unusually excessive fondness for his liquor. The drinking wasn’t in itself a concern; sobriety was a vice, after all, but there were limits, and His Majesty had long since crossed the line of the acceptable. Whispers and mutterings found their way around, particularly in these troubled times. Perhaps the Emperor wished to reinvigorate a stagnant economy with Brevari
and spirits; or perhaps he simply hadn’t the potency to do anything else.
As Gerani entered the throne room, His Majesty acknowledged him with an almost paradoxically dismissive wave. His Majesty moved to speak, but fell into a fit of brittle coughing, which took several long seconds to subside. Gerani, of course, waited silently. Still not deigning to look directly at him, His Majesty waved a commanding hand.
“I shall need several more bottles, and of higher content, too”
The distaste had returned, and this time Gerani could not swear with complete certainty his face didn’t display a hint of sneer. He bowed, before preparing to leave the throne room - and its sweet smell of brevari
- for the storerooms.
“I am getting too old for this. One more shot”.
Gerani froze. He had considered himself dismissed, but His Majesty appeared ready to issue further instructions. He waited, a perfect picture of equilibrium and calm, though he hoped to project just the smallest hint of impatience into his bearing. He would of course never dare to presume he had the right to berate the Emperor, and yet, family seniority still counted for something. It had to. Such was the Centauri way, even now. So he waited, slightly shy of pointedly.
“This is my last chance” the Emperor muttered.
“I wonder, what more I must do? Will this be enough, at last?”
To his sudden horror, Gerani realized His Majesty wanted a response
. The sheer perversity of the concept was enough to destabilize Gerani’s perfectly balanced world and for several seconds he believed he was flustered. Pivoting round, he kept the mask impassive as he searched his mind for - of all things - an answer.
The Emperor is engaging me in
“Your pardon, Majesty, I know not of what we are speaking”.
Perplexingly - or perhaps not so given his currently inebriated state - His Majesty suddenly seemed to notice Gerani as though he hadn’t before. His brow furrowed, and he snapped out a rebuke:
“And I suppose you just intend to stand there, all day, or perhaps until the sun itself falls from the sky and the gods walk upon the soils, yes?” He threw his hands up in an exaggerated, and not entirely convincing, display of outrage. Still, the sharp and bitter edge was quite evident in his voice.
His Majesty sneered, almost half-heartedly, his blotched face a portrait of mild disgust. Quite where that disgust was directed, Gerani couldn’t be sure, nor – of course - was it any of his business. He did, however, know for certain it couldn’t well be his
behaviour provoking it. His Majesty waved his hand again as though dismissing him, but too indifferent to truly give another order. He seemed to arrive at a decision, and repeated the gesture. He waved Gerani off, directing him from the room like an Earther shooing a stray duck from the rubbish bags.
Trimly, face impassive, Gerani bowed formally before leaving the throne room. Truly, we are in decline if this is the face of Imperial Glory.
The thought left him with an almost genuine sadness.