Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Tomás Darquin
Unlike their last trip away from the cities, Kim and Darquin found themselves rattling down a road that really didn’t deserve the name next to the modern marvels of paving technology that they saw everywhere else. Spain was old, and they kept a good section of it that way. It stretched out before them in a patchwork of styles that was no younger than a century in its newest centers. Disneyworld’s template, it seemed, for The Centuries of Earth.
Except Disneyworld would have had more cabs and the rental Kim drove wouldn’t scrape its undercarriage with every dip.
Darquin looked out the windows. “I didn’t expect to go out this far… not that I’m complaining.”
“It’s worth it, if you’re at all the nature type. They live in a kind of Historical Preserve, or ‘hysterical’ if it’s my grandfather describing it.”
“What isn’t, these days.” He chuckled to himself.
“You’ve got a point,” she acknowledged with amusement. Her attention returned to the road, focusing on navigating the car around another rocky bend. After ships and shuttles, she was more than a little out of practice. It served as ample distraction from her nervousness until the landmarks impinged upon her awareness and the worry rode the way into her imagination.
Glancing around, Darquin noticed the new tension in her hands at the wheel, her knuckles white. “Uh, I’d offer to take over, but I wouldn’t know which way to go,” he said, smiling.
“No, I’m all right.” She smiled at the lie, and tried better. “Just plain nervous I guess. About the only family I’ve got worth the bother. Well… see the stables there? That’s theirs. They run a B&B and kind of ranch for anyone who wants to fall off a horse.”
Darquin tried to picture himself on a horse. “That’ll be new….”
More nervous than she realized, Kim’s barriers were low enough she caught the brief imagery in his mind. “Can’t be more intimidating than the Shadows, now can it?”
“I dunno, no one said I had to ride any Shadows either.”
Kim couldn’t help but laugh.
Soon the old pavement turned to cobble, and then to gravel and fieldstone pressed into the mud. The winter rains in the north had reached further than usual, making the tires squelch in the dips of usually dry roads. Fortunately for the car, the longest part of the drive was behind them. Soon they were turning up a long old driveway, kept level with gravel. The estate, a hacienda finished in plaster and surrounded with old wrought iron, rose up at the end of a long circular drive between gardens, basking in the sun it had known for hundreds of years. Lush gardens grew around it, with an orchard on one side, heavy with ripening citrus.
Kim pulled the car around to the front door and turned it off. Without the breeze movement brought, the air pushed in hot and humid with the evaporating rains. Everyone else had the sense to be indoors at that hour, and with more forgiving clothes for that matter as well. Kim was beginning to sorely regret not dispensing of her Ranger uniform.
She climbed out of the car and squinted through the sunlight to take in the view. Darquin reached down to tie his PPG holster to his ankle instead of at his belt before stepping out to follow her.
Kim didn’t miss what he was doing. “Thanks,” she said, “this’ll be interesting enough as it is…. My grandfather was in the Earth/Minbari War.”
Darquin stopped and looked down at his Ranger’s uniform. “Oh hell.”
He tucked his folded pike under his belt. “Anything else I should know?”
“Other than the fact you’ll probably be like oil and water with the old warhorse, nothing springs to mind.” She flashed a crooked smile. “It should be all right once I explain. I hope. I considered getting out of uniform, but it’d come out and just be the worse for being hidden.”
Darquin shrugged. “Well, after all, it’s what we do.”
“And what we’ve done’s got to count for something.” She took a deep breath and stepped away from the car. “All right, let’s get this over with.”
“Gotcha.” He stepped out, pausing just to pin his Isil’zha onto his tunic, under his duster.
Kim crunched across to the front steps and lifted the old brass knocker on the heavy wooden door twice. They could hear it echo through the open windows.
After a long pause, the door opened, revealing a woman probably in her seventies, her skin a weathered brown too uniform to be entirely the product of the sun. The lines around her face had deepened since Kim saw her last, but the strong, hawkish bones of her face were not lost with age. It was none other than her grandmother, Ginessa Peterson.
The recognition didn’t come quite as quickly for her grandmother. “Yes?” she greeted, then her eyes widened as she studied Kim more closely.
Kim offered a hesitant smile. “It’s me. Kim. I–” Her stumbling beginning was suddenly halted when hands cupped her face, and as suddenly were thrown around her in a surprisingly strong grip. It was all Kim could do to keep her mental barriers up. She moved awkwardly to answer the greeting, like a wooden doll in her shock. Behind her Darquin smiled widely, relieved and reminded of home.
Ginessa laughed incredulously. “It’s really you. Alive, and–” She held her granddaughter back at arms length, inspecting. “Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?”
“Rangers, like on ISN,” Kim confirmed. “Who else would’ve put up with me anyway?” She laughed at her own joke, to hide her worry.
Ginessa was surprised, and there were questions there in her eyes, but she visibly put them aside as unimportant for now. “And you’ve brought a friend.” She looked past Kim for the first time to see Darquin there.
Kim stepped to one side. “Tomas Darquin, Ginessa Peterson. We serve together.”
“Glad to meet you, dama,” Darquin said, shaking her hand as he addressed her in Mexican-accented Spanish.
Ginessa smiled widely, worry lines easing away. “And you.” She glanced at her granddaughter, then stepped back and waved to the warmer indoors. “Please, both of you, come in. You must have been on the roads a good while.”
“No longer than I remember, and the roadblocks are coming down even as we passed,” Kim replied. She stepped in, heels tapping on wide terra cotta tiles. Still, everything looked so like before. More plaster, washed white this time, and dark beams, cool and shadowed above. All signs of modern technology were cleverly hidden away.
Darquin followed her in, trying to follow her lead. Ginessa closed the door behind them and lead them down a corridor passing under an upper landing where two sets of stairs met. It was back to the kitchen, Darquin soon saw, toward an old table long enough to serve twelve or more. The rest of the place appeared to be equally equipped for the numbers, but only Ginessa was in sight, and no other movement in the place could be heard.
“Is Uncle Matteo about? And Grandfather?” Kim tried to be casual about it, but failed to sound anything but worried.
“Your grandfather is with his obsession as usual, in the barn.” Ginessa smiled, but it faded a little with her next admission. “But your uncle’s not home yet.”
Kim sensed more than she would have wished to know. “What’s happened?”
Ginessa waved them to the table. “He couldn’t hold his tongue,” she answered, with a fond, sad smile. “He should have retired, gotten out when Clark’s ways were put in with his Nightwatch, but he had speak out, and argue it. Charged for insubordination… this was months ago. We’re trying to get him out now.”
Darquin let out an almost inaudible whistle of amazement.
Kim glanced at Darquin, then folded down into a seat. “What, did they just lock him up and throw away–” She stopped as she realized that was just what had been done, and instantly regretted opening her mouth.
Quietly, Darquin said to Ginessa, “I think I know what it must be like… for both you and him. I’m sorry.”
Ginessa nodded, easing down into seat. “It will soon be over.” The words sounded like a personal mantra chanted to sustain her. “But even so, please don’t bring it up later. Shawn…. Well, you both will be here later then, yes?”
“If you even… well, if it’s not too much trouble,” Kim said quickly.
Darquin nodded. “As long as it wouldn’t impose. Um, otherwise….”
“It is no imposition, especially not for family,” Ginessa said firmly. “There is plenty of room here, and been that way too often since they began caging us in like animals every night.”
Darquin looked over his shoulder, then quietly, “Is it still going on?”
“You say it’s coming down now, but that’s the first change I’d heard of so far. Just to go in on my shift at the hospital requires two identicard checks–something that was not needed even once in all my years here!” There was a slight bloom of anger from Ginessa, hinting at how much bubbled under the surface… and how Matteo must have gotten into trouble himself, if son was at all like mother.
“I guess we couldn’t expect it all to disappear the moment we touched ground,” Kim said, shaking her head, disappointed.
Darquin nodded sympathetically in agreement. He glanced quickly at her grandmother, then back to Kim, in case it was the wrong response.
“Maybe not for weeks. One would think we were in the days these buildings were built.” Ginessa sighed. “But it’s not important just now. More important is what’s happened to you in the last five years,” she said to Kim.
“I’m beginning to think I should have made a recording.” Kim quickly withered, looking apologetic at the quip. “It’s going to take a bit. Could I go find Grandfather first?”
A brief silence passed, then Ginessa nodded. “And drag him in and away from those horses if you could, before he becomes one himself.”
“I will.” Kim looked briefly at Darquin, to see if he would be fine.
“Holler if you need me,” he said quickly. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” she replied, and almost offered the same wish. She got up, and pausing just to quickly touch her grandmother’s shoulder, Kim slipped out the back door.
Ginessa watched her go, then almost immediately focused on Darquin. Not unpleasantly, but definitely more intently than casual conversation would have entailed.
Darquin picked up on the air of curiosity. “So…whatcha wanna know?” He smirked wickedly.
Ginessa chuckled despite herself. He was not unlike her youngest son, in his mischief. “Everything ISN didn’t get the answer to, and then some.” She leaned forward, folding her arms on the table top, and her face grew more serious. “Like about the Rangers.”
Darquin nodded. “It started out a thousand years ago, with the Minbari. Our main job is to scout out for info that’ll help prevent wars, famine, whatever danger’s on hand.”
“The Minbari?” She studied his alien attire as she had at the door. “Do you work for them?”
Darquin smiled, with meaning. “No, ma’am. We work for everyone.”
“This Alliance, as we’d heard about. I know we’ve been blinkered by Clark and what passed for the news this past year, but just how much did we miss out there?”
Darquin sighed for a moment, thinking, weighing his options. “Uh, a couple things. A galactic war… which is kinda connected with what happened here at home. Clark and his people were working for the other side.”
“I take it this is something that would take more than even an hour to explain.”
“Uh, sort of. It’s kind of hard to believe, too.”
Ginessa smiled. “I may live a kind of Never-Never Land, but I’ve seen a few unbelievable things in my time, so you might as well try. Besides, I’ve the feeling my granddaughter will be trying to make the same attempt right now, if I know either of them anymore.”
(c) copyright 1999 Alida Saxon and Joe R. Medina. All rights reserved.