What's in a Word?

(a.k.a. the “Cover your Ass” Story)


By Kymberlee

Thank God this meeting is almost over with , Sheridan thought to himself, surprise inspections are a pain in the neck.

“..efficiency rating is good. Could be better, but it’s pretty good. Congratulations Captain, I know this isn’t the easiest place to be running ...especially with the way interstellar relationships are going right now.” General Netter stood up and saluted Sheridan. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m due back on board the Magellan in about fifteen minutes.”

Sheridan stood and returned the salute, “Thank you, sir. It’s...had it’s ups and downs.” He smiled a little. “Why don’t I walk you to your ship?”

“Thank you, Captain,” the General responded as they left Sheridan’s office.

Just as they left the office, they heard footsteps running up from behind them. “Captain, I was hoping to find you - do you have a minute? Alone?”

Sheridan sighed, but smiled again, “General Netter, this is Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari Federation. Delenn, this is General Netter of EarthForce.”

Delenn bowed to the General and then addressed Sheridan again, “Perhaps later would be more suitable, as soon as you get a minute...?” She bowed again and turned to leave. Sheridan frowned at her.

General Netter sensed the urgency in her tone. “Actually Captain, if you could point me to the nearest ’little officer’s room’ we can meet at the Magellan’s docking bay in fifteen minutes?”

“Of course,” Sheridan answered. “Down that hall and it’s about the third door on the left.” With yet another grin he added, “Be sure to stay clear of the one marked Pak'Ma'Ra only .”

With the General heading away, Delenn turned back to Sheridan and indicated that they go into his office.

Once they were in and seated he asked her, “Is everything okay?”

Delenn took a deep breath. “I was looking for you earlier. Commander Ivanova said you were in a briefing due to a surprise inspection.” She paused, “We have another cargo ship of Narns due to arrive in about two hours. I was concerned about what would happen if one of your superiors would notice several hundred injured Narns disembarking a Minbari freighter on an Earth outpost.”

“I see your point. That could get messy.” Sheridan’s link beeped. “Sheridan, go.”

“Captain, General Netter’s ship is scheduled to leave in fifteen minutes. Are you going to see him off or would you like me to?” Ivanova asked.

“I already told him I’d be there.” Sheridan paused, considering what Delenn had told him. “Do you have a current ETA on that Minbari freighter, Commander?”

There was a slight pause as she checked her board. “Yes sir, one hour eighteen minutes. They’ve requested immediate docking clearance.”

“See that they get it, Sheridan out.” He tapped off his link and turned to Delenn. “Well, I guess I should go see the General off the station. If we give them immediate clearance they should be gone before your people bring in the Narns. I’ll go and make sure we’ve covered our ass well enough.”

Delenn thought about what he said for a second, trying to keep the confusion off her face. Finally deciding that saying nothing would be best, she stood, bowed and followed him out of the office.


Delenn was sitting in front of her data screen when Lennier came in to report that the Narns had been brought on board and taken to Med-lab without incident.

She nodded her thanks and went back to staring at the terminal again. Lennier couldn’t help but notice her distraction. He moved around to stand behind her and see what was so fascinating.

The screen was blank.

“May I be of assistance, Delenn?” he asked. It wasn’t like her to sit and stare at a blank data screen. Many scholars of the religious caste had spent years upon years trying to come up with perfect meditation shapes. He was sure this wasn’t one of them.

“Lennier, do you find humans confusing?”

“Much of the time. They are sometimes a very illogical people... Why?”

“Captain Sheridan told me today that I need to be sure to ’cover my ass’. But according to the computer, an ’ass’ is large gray pack animal from Earth.” Her frown deepened. “Lennier, I do not have an ass to cover!”

Lennier remained silent, trying to think of a possible explanation. “Perhaps...” he started, knowing that what he was about to say was ridiculous, but since he couldn’t think of anything else... “the Captain thinks that sending pack animals to Narn will help them rebuild.”

Delenn turned around to face him, and Lennier

realized that she thought it was as ridiculous as he


“Perhaps if you told me exactly what he said, I could look into it for you,” Lennier suggested.

“Yes, yes thank you. That will be very helpful. He said that he needed to be sure that ’we’ve covered our ass well enough.”’

“I will look into the meaning of such a phrase. Perhaps you should rest. You look... distressed by all of this,” Lennier suggested.

“Perhaps I will go for a walk in the garden. Yes, if anyone needs me, that is where I will be.” Delenn sighed, wondering why it was that the longer she was around humans the more she failed to understand them.



When Delenn entered the garden she found Commander Susan Ivanova sitting on one of the patches of grass. She was poking at a data pad with a stylus, her uniform jacket laid carefully to one side. She didn’t seem to be enjoying what she was doing. With a final stab at the pad, she threw it down on the ground, “Oh the hell with them. If they don’t like our docking schedules, then they can dock somewhere else! ...Make me a hell of a lot happier. What a pain in the ass.” She picked up the pad and started stabbing at it again.

That word again.

Delenn decided that perhaps it would be best to leave her alone. Ivanova seemed at least as frustrated as she herself was feeling. Delenn began to study the patterns made in the sand of the Zen area of the garden. She had let her thoughts turn away from the problem of why sending work animals from Earth to Narn would help when she heard a dull thud .

Delenn turned to see Commander Ivanova lying flat on her back, not moving. Fearing that she had passed out, Delenn stood and hurried to her side. “Commander...Commander...” she called out.

Susan sat up before Delenn could reach her. “Huh? Oh, hi Delenn. I didn’t see you come in.”

“I was afraid...you...fell over...” Delenn sputtered.

“More like just flopped over... I’m just frustrated with the new docking regs. They’re really messing up our schedules. I thought maybe if I tried working on them in a less stressful atmosphere than C&C I’d get more done. So much for that theory, huh?” Susan smiled at the ambassador for a second before looking more serious and asking, “Is something wrong?”

Delenn felt blood rush to her cheeks at the proposition of explaining her dilemma to someone else. Either she’d look the fool for not understanding, or the Captain would look the fool for such an odd suggestion. Ivanova was watching her patiently, waiting for an answer.

“I’m...not sure... Captain Sheridan made a very odd request earlier this afternoon..” Delenn knew that Susan knew she was stalling.

Susan, for her part raised an eyebrow. She was aware of the affections growing between the Captain and the Minbariambassador. She suddenly wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“We were discussing the Narns that arrived today and we were talking about trying to be sure your General Netter did not find out about them. Susan... what are the station regulations about bringing animals on board?”

Ivanova blinked at the non-sequiter. “Animals? Well, pets must be non-sentient, DNA registered and tagged. They have to be under 20 kilos, or the owner needs to apply for a special permit to have a large animal on board. Owners are responsible for all damage done by a pet. Why are you asking me this? Are you thinking of getting a cat?”

“No, no, Captain Sheridan told me about the havoc that cats can cause... oh, this is very awkward... This afternoon Captain Sheridan asked me to ’cover an ass’ - Where would such an animal be kept on a station such as Babylon 5?”

Ivanova never heard the last question. She was, as the expression goes, laughing her ass off.

Delenn stood up, discomfited. it came out as she had expected - badly.

“No, no, no! Delenn, wait. I’m not laughing at you... leave it to the Captain to...” she collapsed into laughter again.

Delenn stood there trying to decide if she should leave.

Cover your ass is an expression. Actually in this case,”ass” refers to a part of your anatomy...um...” Susan paused trying to think of a way to explain that without offending the ambassador’s delicate sensibilities. “Um...the part of your anatomy that you sit on.”

Suddenly Delenn was reminded of another odd conversation in the garden. “Ah yes! Your butt!” she exclaimed, sending Ivanova into another fit of laughter.

“Well, yes, but in this case, what it basically means is that you need to be sure that you’ve...” Ivanova paused trying to come up with a way of explaining an idiom, without using another idiom, “left no evidence of what you’ve done. He wanted to be sure that General Netter didn’t learn of us smuggling Narns around.” An example occurred to her. “We certainly could have done a better job ’covering our asses’ when we returned from the White Star.”

Delenn could feel her cheeks becoming even hotter, but felt most relieved to understand. “Thank you, for explaining that. I must admit that human language becomes most mysterious when the situation is tense.” Bowing, she left.

And almost ran into Lennier who had come to share his findings with her. “Ambassador,” Lennier said bowing. “I think I have found the source of the confusion. ’Ass’ has two meanings. The first as you found out, is a large terran pack animal, the second -”

“ - The second,” she interrupted, “Means a part of the anatomy...but even then, it doesn’t always. Yes, so I have learned.”

As they left the garden Delenn explained in rough form, the conversation she had had with Ivanova.


“...So she was trying to find out where we’d be keeping a donkey on the station,” Ivanova finished explaining to Garibaldi that night at Earhart’s.

Garibaldi almost choked on his water. “She wasn’t really?” he asked.

Ivanova spotted the Captain coming towards their table and raised her voice so that he’d be sure to overhear, “Yeah,she really was. Looks like the Captain needs to learn how to phrase things just a little more diplomatically.”

Sheridan grabbed an extra chair and sat down. “Mind explaining yourself, Commander?”

“You bet your ass,” Garibaldi said, sending both him and Susan into another fit of convulsive laughter.


(This first appeared on the Babylon 5 fiction mailing list <b5-creative@lists.best.com>)

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