Flashback story – Xanxa Symanah
This is a story submitted as part of the Flashback week competition. It’s a Babylon 5 story written by Sarah Xanxa Bartlett, the roleplaying game is called ‘Beyond Babylon’, and is played on Facebook.
So you want to know what a Centauri is doing in the Anla’shok? Well, I’m not the only one, but that’s not my story to tell. First of all, I’m not pure Centauri, in fact I’m half Minbari on my mother’s side, so my entrance into the world was bound to be controversial anyway. So many questions were asked about how I came to be conceived when Centaurii and Minbarii are physically incompatible. Well, love conquers all, as the old saying goes, and with much consultation of Technomages and other shady figures, I came to exist.
Racism was alive and well on Centauri Prime during my childhood and young adulthood. What also didn’t help was the fact that I refused to keep my head shaved like most Centauri women, and also a lot of the time I dressed more like a man, for practicality’s sake. As befitting my status, I was taught by some of the most gifted tutors and initiated into the Couro Prido duelling society, not because I was especially skilled with the coutari, but because of my weaponry tutor’s absurd vicarious ambitions.
House Symanah had always been a quietly respected house, keeping to the old traditions and never attracting the wrong kind of attention. Until I was born, that is. My parents always did their best to keep me off the radar, but I have always been strong-willed with a rebellious streak, so despite their best efforts, I did attract the worst kind of attention.
It all started when I first met Lady Khmiza Grizano during my time with the Couro Prido. She took an instant dislike to me and uttered withering insults about me being a “filthy halfbreed”. Apart from my small group of friends, most of the other young nobles ignored me, but Khmiza seemed to go out of her way to provoke me. Sometimes we were chosen by the tutors to spar together and on those occasions, it felt more like a Morago than a practice round. There was pure hatred in her eyes and murder in her hearts, so determined was she to bring about my downfall.
However, it wasn’t with the coutari that she brought me down, she was far more devious than that. With the help of her well-connected family, she arranged for false evidence to be planted, to arouse suspicions that I was a Narn collaborator. That was about the worst thing a Centauri could be accused of in those days, as I’m sure you’re aware.
Perhaps I should have been prepared for something underhanded, but I wasn’t. My whole existence crumbled around me when I received the warrant for my arrest, on the grounds that I had been collaborating with the Narn Regime, spying for them and passing on vital military information. As if I even had access to such information! So my father was a member of the Centaurum, but so were the fathers of many of my peers, including Lady Khmiza.
My mother’s relatives on Minbar offered to have me stay with them, but my father insisted that I should remain on Centauri Prime. Running away from the situation wouldn’t solve anything, and might be seen as an admission of guilt. So I stayed and faced my trial, saying goodbye to my family and friends, as I didn’t ever expect to see them again. The usual sentence for treason was execution, so I tried to make my peace with my Household Gods and prayed that my family be kept safe.
So we sat through the faked trial, hearing the outrageous evidence against me, watching videos which supposedly showed me meeting with a Narn agent. Later I learned that similar charges had been brought against one of my good friends, another Couro Prido initiate who was somewhat rebellious in nature, but innocent of the crimes of which he was accused.
Everything about this trial seemed surreal, and finally when all the evidence had been heard, and the Judge called a recess to deliberate on his verdict, I hoped that it had all been a dream and that I would shortly wake up and find everything back to normal.
Once the court was reconvened, the Judge looked at me severely and delivered his verdict. “Lady Xanxa Symanah, I find you guilty of treason against the Emperor and the Centauri Republic. As you are no doubt aware, the usual sentence for treason is execution, but in this case, I am prepared to make an exception. As you are of previous good character and reputation, you are instead to be sentenced to life imprisonment at the penal colony on Kentari. Let the record show a guilty verdict”.
For someone such as myself who had led a life of privilege and had never known hardship, my time at the penal colony was tougher than I had ever imagined. Most of my fellow prisoners were the usual thieves and murderers, but there was one human who was different from all the rest. He had a wickedly sarcastic sense of humour and affected a casually bored demeanour which I found fascinating.
Life in the penal colony soon established its dull routine. The prisoners were roused early, given a meagre breakfast then set to various construction tasks according to their strengths and abilities. Together with the mysterious human, my tasks were constructing computer circuits, repairing energy conduits and sometimes reprogramming computer consoles. Other prisoners were assigned to making or repairing furniture, building new prison cells, kitchen duties, gardening duties and other menial tasks. The work was intended to be boring and repetitive. The guards patrolled all workplaces, making sure that no prisoner was idle. There was a brief break for lunch, then the prisoners returned to their assigned duties until early evening, when supper would be served and they would be locked in their cells until the following morning, when the routine would begin again.
During my conversations with the human, I learned that he was a specialist in computer systems, but he made his money by dealing in stolen goods and selling information to the highest bidder. He had been informed by a reliable source that there was a secret experimental weapon hidden on Kentari, which was why he had allowed himself to be caught, knowing that he would be sent there. He told me that he had an exit plan, but made it abundantly clear that he had always worked alone and nothing would make him change his mind.
After several weeks had passed, a new batch of prisoners arrived at the penal colony. Most of them were common thieves and murderers, but there were two who stood out. One of them appeared to be human, the other appeared to be a Minbari/human hybrid. They were wearing priestly robes of some kind, which intrigued me immensely. Why would priests find themselves sentenced to life imprisonment in a penal colony? I hoped that I would have a chance to find out.
It transpired that the Minbari/human hybrid was assigned to work in the computer section, so I awaited my opportunity to start up a conversation with him. I didn’t have to wait long, for he called me by name and introduced himself as Ignacius ra’Mir of the Anla’shok. I recalled what little I had learned from my Minbari relatives about this secretive order of warrior priests and asked him how he came to be at the prison colony. He mumbled something about correcting miscarriages of justice and serving the greater good, most of which I didn’t understand at the time.
Several days later, there was an explosion in the computer section, during the afternoon work shift. Nobody appeared to be badly hurt, but the prisoners made the most of the disruption. Some of the bolder ones tried to rush the guards and one even managed to steal a firefighter’s uniform and equipment, hoping that he would be able to escape after the fire had been extinguished.
I stayed at my assigned workstation, as the blast was in the far corner of the room. I noticed that the mysterious human had vanished and suspected that it might have been him who set the blast. I doubted that I would ever see him again. In the midst of the confusion, I felt someone grab my arm. It was Ignacius. His human companion, who turned out to be another Anla’shok, was also there. The two of them led me off down a darkened corridor. I was expecting the guards to pursue us at any moment, but they were still occupied with recapturing and securing the prisoners who were trying to escape from the computer section.
The sequence of events which followed seemed even more surreal than the ridiculous charges, trial and verdict which had brought me here. Somehow the three of us managed to get out into the main prison yard without being pursued by guards. Then we were beamed up by some kind of transporter technology into a waiting cargo ship. At that time, I was unused to transporters and passed out.
I awoke sometime later, on board the freighter. I was told by Ignacius that I was now a free citizen and that the Anla’shok had rescued me partly because of a direct request from my mother’s family and also because they wished to make me some kind of offer.
I could hardly believe what was happening. My mother’s clan had made a direct request of the Anla’shok. I had no idea that my mother’s people held such influence, but silently thanked the Great Maker for the rescue. I wondered what would become of me now, knowing that I couldn’t return to Centauri Prime, at least not for the foreseeable future. Was I any less a prisoner now? I wondered what the Anla’shok would offer me, hoping that it would be more bearable than life in the penal colony, at least.
I was given my own quarters on arrival at the Anla’shok secret base. They were simple but comfortable. However, I was still unsure as to whether or not I was being held prisoner, despite what Ignacius had said. I knew little enough of the Anla’shok and their methods, since very little information about them was ever made public.
Several days later, Ignacius came to see me. “Now I will explain everything” he said. “I am the current leader of the Anla’shok. I bear the honorary title of Entil’zha. It is both a gift and a burden, which in time you will come to understand. You realise of course that you cannot return to your homeworld for the time being. So it is my intention to make you an offer. If you choose to refuse it, you will be sent to live with your relatives on Minbar, but I can’t see you wishing to settle there. The Anla’shok need new recruits. I know enough about you to realise that you are a person of honour and integrity. Also you have various skills which will be useful to us. Ask me any questions you wish. Take as long as you need to make your decision. You are safe here so there is no hurry”.
We spent many hours in conversation. I asked questions and Ignacius told me a great deal about the history and ideals of the Anla’shok. “You have much to consider” Ignacius said. “I will leave you to think it over. When you have decided, I will hear your decision”.
To this day, I still can’t be absolutely certain what made me decide to join the Anla’shok. If I’m totally honest with myself, at first I did wonder if I could settle with my mother’s clan on Minbar, but I knew that I would probably be even more out of place there than I had been on Centauri Prime. One of the deciding factors was that the Anla’shok had arranged for a close friend of mine whom I had known from early childhood to visit me at the base. From him I caught up on events back home. It was then that I learned of the other friend who had also been falsely convicted of being a Narn agent. He was not as fortunate as me, since he had been executed for his supposed crime against the Centauri Republic. While I grieved for him, it also served as a useful reminder that it could easily have been me. So I took the view that the Great Maker had given me a chance of another life, far different from the one I had imagined, but I could be a part of something bigger, an
organisation fighting to make a difference.
Shortly after my friend left, I had another visitor. I could hardly contain my astonishment as the mysterious human from the prison colony was shown to my quarters. “I haven’t changed my mind” he said, as I offered him a drink. “I still intend to work alone. I just wanted to say goodbye and wish you luck in your new career”. “Thank you” I said. “So you were responsible for the explosion in the computer section at the penal colony?” He smiled and nodded slightly. “Well, I have a meeting with a potential buyer, so I will leave now” he stated. “I doubt we will meet again, so have a good life”.
“I knew you would join us” Ignacius commented later. “I never had any doubt”. “How could you be so sure?” I enquired. “All part of the prophecy” he said mysteriously. “This is just the beginning for us, Anla’shok Xanxa, our time together will be most interesting!”