"Stephen!" Franklin looked up at the viewscreen. No one had told him who exactly was calling, only that it was a priority transmission from Mars. And so he was slightly surprised, but definitely glad to see his friend Michael Garibaldi appear instead of some other random government official. He had answered more than enough of those calls in the last… He checked the time. It hadn't even been 48 hours since his communications had started running hot, but already it felt like at least a week had passed by.
"Michael." He sighed. Garibaldi looked concerned - more concerned than usual, that was. And he was pretty sure that he was the object of that concern, a fact he didn't like all that much.
"I heard you were on Earth?" The question was completely superfluous - his friend knew where his office was, and had he been anywhere else the call would not have reached him this way. But he supposed that in situations like this one, people liked to hear confirmations of their fears, to allow themselves one more moment of blissful ignorance.
"Of course I'm on Earth, this is where I'm stationed. And the way it looks right now, I'll probably be staying here for quite a while, so if you had planned to invite me to your birthday, I'm afraid I won't be able to come." He hadn't planned for his response to be this brisk and cynical, and stopped before he could say any more. Damn, had recent events frayed his nerves. "I'm sorry, I-"
"It's okay, Stephen." Garibaldi studied him as intently as was possible through a camera. "Look, man, I'm sorry. I don't really know what else to say." He sighed, rubbing his hand over his chin. "Seems like you're all up to your necks in this crap."
Franklin raised his eyebrows. "Well, you could certainly put it that way." On the one hand, it was touching to know that even after they had not seen each other in so long, mostly due to both their work obligations, Michael had immediately contacted him. On the other hand, he had enough problems as it was without adding concerned friends to the list.
"I did some digging," Garibaldi continued, a forced smirk appearing on his face. "I may have long stopped being Chief of Security, but I haven't lost most of my skills or connections yet. Riots everywhere, panic, people running around proclaiming we're being punished for our sins… Sounds about like the average day back on B5, hm? During the war?" Something in his eyes had turned glassy, like a mirror into that past when hope had often hung by a thin, invisible thread.
"Look, Michael, if you want to reminisce about old times - I really have other things on my mind right now." Swallowing the lump that had mysteriously appeared in his throat, Franklin glanced back at his friend. "I'll take you up on that offer in about five years, if it should be necessary." He was well aware that his own smile was just as forced as Garibaldi's.
"You haven't given up yet, Stephen, have you?" There was genuine alarm in his voice, something that once again uncomfortably reminded him of the last time they had all resigned to seeing their remaining lifespan reduced to shreds and fantasies. "Listen, I know I can't do much from here, but if there's anything… We've already set up a division at Edgars Industries to help Earth with the search for a cure, and any funding you guys need, you name it." He shook his head, vision lowered to where the camera no longer picked up his eyes. "I hate not being able to do more."
"Guess you know how I felt back then now," Stephen replied. "You fought your wars from the station, the kind that can be fought with weapons and ships and guns. Seems like now is our turn." He ran a hand through his hair. "I've never thought myself much of a soldier. Doctors are here to save lives, not to kill. But this… this is the kind of war I think I can go both in and out with a clear conscience." He paused. "And that the one time that my kind is on the frontline and not just patching up those who mount the defence. Almost ironic, isn't it? I guess the only enemy I feel justified in killing is one I cannot see. Makes it a hell of a lot easier, don't you think?"
Michael stared at him blankly. "You're a damned optimist, you know that Stephen?"
This time, his smile was genuine. "Someone had to believe in hope during the Shadow War. I guess someone has to now as well. Life goes on, at least for a while… and we'll be damned if we don't put the time we have to good use." He angled his head to the side as if thinking, then joked: "Do you think we can expect a new baby boom in nine months?"
His friend nodded in mock seriousness, snickered, then cleared his throat. Still, his voice was heavy with emotion and unspoken words as he replied. "I guess you have more important things to do now than talking to an old brat from Mars. I just wanted to let you know that we care about what's going on down there. This is our war just as much as yours." He reached a hand out for the viewscreen, as if wanting to extend some form of comfort, then reconsidered and placed it on his desk. "Be well, Stephen. And stay in touch."
"I'll try." The viewscreen flickered as the image started to disappear. "See you soon, Michael."
After the image had vanished and turned to black, he shook his head and let it sink into his hands. They would need much more than optimism to get through the next five years. But it was a start.
He just hoped that he would be able to keep that attitude up in the months to come, once the initial reluctance to despair and the adrenaline of being faced with a life-threatening situation had dissipated. That was another lesson the previous wars had taught him: hope for victory came easier to the one staring an enemy in the eye than to the one awaiting its silent approach. And Earth had a long, terrible wait to endure.