Security Chief Darquin slumped as he reached his office at the Phoenix’s Station House, dumping himself into the chair behind his desk. Shipwide security sweeps had all called in with no results.
All the ambassadors had gone home and left no surprise gifts to thank the Rangers for their hospitality and diplomatic arm-twisting.
With a weary sweep of his hand, Darquin pulled up his mailbox program. “Number of high to standard priority messages?”
“Thank God. Any messages?”
“You have seven messages in queue.”
“Lay ’em on me,” he muttered without enthusiasm.
“First message, from Ronaldo and Barbara Darquin.”
“Send to datapad.”
“Second message, from Patricia Taro.”
A lazy smile faded onto his face for a moment. “Send to quarters, high priority.”
“Third message, from Earthforce Department of Recruitment–”
“Fourth message, from Universe Today Subscription Dep–”
“Fifth message, from Proxima Music Collection–”
“Delete and complain. Jeez…”
“Form letter ‘Complaint’ sent. Sixth message, from Eddie Kriechbaum–”
“I’m being punished. Display,” he called out before the computer could ask for clarification.
“‘It’s me again.’ No kidding.” He read on, finally closing his eyes. “Oh great. Reschedule 2.” The mailing program opened another form letter, a profuse apology and lament of his workload gift-wrapped in a request to reschedule. “Reschedule 2 sent. Seventh message, from Yoshino Marina.”
Darquin blinked. “Show me.”
Konbahna Darquin-san, I am sorry to trouble you, but I would be very grateful if you could visit me and assist in reassembling my swords. Though my injuries have largely healed, I feel that my own hands are not yet strong enough for this work. I will be in my quarters from 1900 tonight, if it is convenient. There are several other matters of which I must inform you as well. Your servant, Yoshino Marina.
He noted that she was using a different given name, one she had, according to the records, adopted right after the Day of the Dead. What could’ve inspired the change, he didn’t know…and probably had no right to know. He left it at that.
He punched out a quick and straightforward reply:
1900 it is. See ya then!
He closed the mailing program with a virtual slap down the face of the holo-image and bolted out of the Station House. If he was to get some food, shower, and answer his other two mails in time, he had to move.
As 1900 came around, Darquin made his way to Yoshino’s quarters with as much speed as possible. He’d switched his Ranger uniform for his old Earthforce workout clothes, so at least he didn’t have to navigate the ship’s corridors while trying not to trip over his own cloak.
Music was playing as Darquin entered Yoshino’s quarters. It was a tune he recognized well, though he couldn’t remember “Sweet Home Chicago” ever being played on a shamisen. Dressed in a dark blue yukata, Yoshino bowed in greeting. “Thank you for coming,” she told him. “Please forgive the state my quarters are in.”
Darquin raised an eyebrow, surveying the immaculate room. “I’ll live,” he said, amusement in his voice. “Where’s a safe place to sit?”
She smiled, gesturing to a cushion beside a low table. “Please make yourself comfortable,” she said. “May I offer you some tea?”
“Thank you, whatever you’re having,” he said, slipping into Japanese and other old habits, as he accepted the offer of the cushion.
She went into her small kitchen, returning with a pot of tea, two mugs and a small plate of cakes. Sitting on the cushion opposite, she poured a mug of strong green tea and passed it to him.
“Thank you again for your help,” she said, adding, “I would like to complement you on your Japanese. You speak very well.”
Darquin froze as he realized he’d just bowed his head in thanks. “I went to Tokyo for OCS. I did a year or two there.”
“I was still living in Kyoto then,” she said. “Actually, now that I think of it, that was about the time I was given the swords.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been there yet. Most of my time was in Tokyo.” He took a few sips from his cup of green tea. A pang of sadness struck him as the tea warmed him. “This does take me back,” he said softly.
“I would enjoy hearing about it, if you would like to talk about it,” she said, reaching for a cake.
“Well, it was a strange time. Right after the Minbari surrendered. And I was a much more bitter person then. Fortunately I found a sensei in the Academy.” He turned his face to the plain black lacquered tabletop at his knees, trying to hide the impending blush. “And some good people. With lots of patience.”
“I’m glad of it. We all need friends. As for me, in those days, I don’t think I knew who the good people were.” She frowned a little, thinking. “Isn’t there a saying –” she paused, rendering it in English, “she fell among thieves?”
“Something like that. I got the impression,” he said carefully, “it was a hard life.”
“The life itself was not so hard,” she said after a moment. “At the time, I didn’t give much thought to how wrong it all was. But … it did end very badly.” She ran a hand across her hair. Over the edge of his tea cup, Darquin watched her bring her pale hand down to her side with deliberate caution as it formed a stern fist. “So can I have a look at the katanas?”
“Yes, of course.” Rising fluidly, she retrieved a long, narrow bundle wrapped in cloth and put it on the table in front of Darquin. “I’ll get the tools as well,” she added, shooing Kuri off one of her trunks to do so.
“Hey, Kuri-chan!” He scratched at the patch of floor beside his cushion. Kuri bounded over, bumping at his hand with the top of her head. “I’ll try to distract her for a sec.”
“Thanks,” Yoshino said when she returned to the table with the cleaning tools. “You know, I think she really is glad to see you.”
Grinning, he shrugged. “Feed a cat with table scraps and scratch ‘er just right, then you got a friend for life.”
“How very true.” Yoshino stroked the cat with a smile.
Darquin spread out a cloth over his lap with a hard snap, examining the tools and pieces carefully before setting everything where he wanted them. The swords within the bundle, the bared tangs solid black with oxidation, were clearly a matched pair, old even to his eyes. The longer blade seemed quite long for a katana. “Any particular way you want me to do this?”
She shook her head. “Just with care, of course,” she said, reluctantly stating the obvious. “I still can’t believe how old they are,” she murmured to herself.
Digging into the work, in the process of reassembling the swords, Darquin said absentmindedly, “I dunno. They look like they’re in good shape to me, considering.”
“For a thousand years old, they definitely are.”
Darquin fumbled one end of the first sword in mid-assembly, groping to keep all the pieces tightly together when the other end rang and threatened to spray out of control. As he stretched to hold that end shut, flattening his palm to keep the metal from slashing his hand open, the cleaning tools spilled over the sides of his lap. “I got it.” Wincing, he tried to ignore an accusatory clang beside him. “No problem.”
Yoshino had her hand clapped tightly over her mouth, her cheeks going bright red. Finally she stilled the shaking of her shoulders and took a deep breath. “I’m so sorry. I should have told you before. Please forgive me.”
He only nodded, mesmerized by the age of the blade in his hands. “These things have been around as long as the Anla’shok…when Valen lived?” he muttered.
“Yes,” she said simply, her amusement and embarrassment overtaken by the same awe.
Darquin worked quickly but methodically, completing the assembly of the first sword. “Two orders of samurai…on different planets, at the same time. I wonder what Musashi and Valen might make of each other.”
“I’ve wondered that myself,” Yoshino said. “I’d like to think they would want to find out as much as they could about one another’s paths.” Yoshino paused to appraise the blades anew. “I never thought such a thing would happen to me. I never dreamed I was carrying such a treasure.”
“We’ll take care of it better than the jerks who had it–” He eased one last trickle of oil on the blade before he turned his attention back to its counterpart. “–and show ’em how it’s done. No sweat.”
“That brings me to the other thing I needed to tell you,” she said. “At the same time as I learned about the true lineage of these swords, I also learned that there is a Yakuza clan who is searching for them. And me. I can tell you everything I know about that, whenever you are ready.”
“I’m ready anytime.” He shook his head. “Yakuza. Losers.”
“You’re right,” she said, not bothering to conceal a chuckle and a grin of appreciation for the pun.
His comment was apt as well as sardonic. The Yakuza took their name from the losing numbers in an ancient game of dice. “They are the New Sakura clan, and their leader is called Shonichi. I believe he is on Babylon 5 at the moment.”
“Great, they’ll love that. I’ll bet the New Sakura have heard of us by now. The question is whether they’ll still think they could take us.”
Yoshino grinned, suddenly feeling warm all over. “One way or another, they will learn they can’t. As it happens, I know exactly what Shonichi is up to, or at least as much as comes through his message box,” she said, sitting back on her heels.
Darquin started on the next blade, this time moving more carefully. “What’s he looking for on B5?”
“Nothing in particular, as far as I can tell. He seems to be just using it as a convenient place to wait for messages from Abbai. But since he won’t be getting any more, I’m not sure what he plans to do next. He might decide to come for me directly.”
“After I saw the reports, I’ve already given B5 Security a heads-up. Take down one of their people and you deny the Yakuza access to ISA space.”
Yoshino nodded. “It will slow them down, at least for a little while. Do you know anyone on Babylon 5?”
He hesitated, but tried to keep the momentum of the conversation going. “A few people. I was stationed there when it went online. And I talked to Zack Allan a few times. A few other people.”
She caught the hesitation, and said, “If it will cause you difficulty, I can contact them myself.”
“Nah, it’ll be fine,” he smiled. “If you write up everything you have on this guy, I can send it on and vouch for it. Zack can’t write off the word of two Rangers, no matter how lousy things are there,” he said with a wicked grin. “Between Mr Allan’s people and us, Shonichi-chan is in for a shock.”
Yoshino chuckled in surprise, then grinned with admiration for Darquin’s daring. To refer to anyone with such familiarity was considered rude. Addressing a Yakuza boss that way was dangerous. And judging from what she knew about Darquin, he probably wouldn’t care. She took a breath then said, “I will write it up tonight,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Sure, just doing my bit.” He examined the last katana, checking for mistakes. “I think I got it. If it’s okay to ask…did you have any plans for these, now that you know more about them?”
She smiled to tell him it was all right. “I’ve thought about that a lot,” she said. “They’re too precious for any one person to own, even if I deserved such an honor. So I’ve decided that as soon as my duties to the Rangers allow, I’m going to take them back to Japan. I’ll give them to the Empress.”
“What would the Yakuza do?”
“No one would dare harm the Empress. Not even the Yakuza.”