Darquin was flitting back and forth across the ship’s command deck, checking the tactical and engineering stations, returning to the new hatches built into the floor. From her place at the Ops console Yoshino watched him, confining her breathing to a steady rhythm. The frown on his tanned features was going from studious to grim.
Then he approached her station, datapad in hand as always, and greeted her with a warm smile. The shadows under his eyes testified to his weariness. “Marina-chan, got a sec? I need you to check these circuits.”
She nodded as she read the numbers on his datapad. “Of course.” When she keyed in the commands, she looked up at him and smiled. “Darquin-san.”
“Feel free to call me Tom,” he said. “Thanks for being so….”
“Yeah.” He sat on the deck, his back against a bulkhead, sighing as he chuckled. “Heck, you say my name better than half the Earth Alliance.”
She turned her chair around to face him. “Names are important,” she said. “They define who we are. I came to realize just how true that was, not so long ago.”
Darquin shrugged. “Words get twisted around too easy for my taste.” Yawning, he gave his face a fierce rub with both hands. His hair was becoming disheveled.
In Yoshino’s eyes, it was an elegant tangle.
She covered her mouth with one hand, trying with only partial success to conceal a tender smile. “You really should take a break,” she told him. “You haven’t rested at all since we launched.”
“I know,” he muttered. “I just can’t ease off the throttle after a launch. Just a habit from the, uh, the war.” Glancing around at the Minbari Rangers at the bridge stations, he switched to Japanese. “The Black Star, the Line…that war. When I know a deployment’s going to get hot, I get keyed up.”
“I wasn’t in the war,” she said softly. “But I’ve been in some battles now….” She took a brief look back at her console. “I have an idea,” she said as she turned back toward him. “It’s past time for dinner already. Perhaps we could go get something to eat, and you could explain it to me?”
“Um….” The triangular drop hatches for the new tactical chambers lay around them, scolding him. He needed practice. They needed fine-tuning.
He blew them off with a sigh. “Sure. If I’m lucky, maybe there’s a zoon burger on board.”
She smiled, turning to lock down her console and summon a replacement for her station. “It might be ground taalor, rather than beef, but there’s a decent chance,” she said as she turned back to him, offering a hand up.
He accepted it, hopping to his feet with a grunt. “I’ll take what I can get.” He gestured to the lift. “Lead on, milady.”
Once in the lift, Yoshino hummed a bit to herself, then said, “You know, Eddie-san was rather disappointed that we couldn’t play for the outbound trip.”
“I know,” Darquin grumbled. “But everyone’s too focused on the Centauri right now.”
“Of course,” she agreed. “And we are very likely going into battle. Even Eddie-san understands that, though he pretends not to.” Her eyes widened as she focused on Darquin again. “I begin to understand. Everyone has a way of dealing with the prospect of fighting.”
He paused, chuckling as he finally nodded. “Yeah…yeah, that’s true. I guess the business with Eddie Kreichbaum and…a few people brought up more for me than I thought.”
Darquin looked around the lift. He needed to be sure if it was just them in there. “When the war was on, I was in a really different place. I was a ‘Fury pilot with the EFD Hecate most of the time. Vampire Hunter Squadron. The pride of EarthForce…not so you’d notice.” He sighed. “Part of me started rooting for the Minbari.”
Yoshino watched the eerie mix of grief and loathing on his face. “I know how much you like flying,” she said carefully, “and yet it seems you are much different from a typical pilot.”
“Well, I was after the explorer track.” He grinned. “I didn’t join up for the hot-doggin’, but I picked it up pretty quick. If I hadn’t tested so well….”
“I suppose, during the war, you didn’t have much choice — you went where you were told to go.”
He shrugged. “That’s EarthForce. I went in to see the unknown. I…ended up seeing things I didn’t want to see. From everywhere.” He was making an obvious attempt to sound disinterested, failing.
She reached out and gently squeezed his shoulder. “Are you — I mean, do you think that’s going to happen again?”
“No, I….I dunno, maybe I do.” Darquin opened his hands as if in surrender. “Up to now, the battle lines were pretty clear. You knew who the enemy was. The Shadows, raiders, Knightwatch, whatever. But I know the Centauri. To me, Dr Mira is Centauri Prime. She didn’t invade Narn. She never fired on B5. Or attack any freighters. She wouldn’t go along with any of that.”
She lowered her head. “I know what you mean. Dr. Mira is my friend, too. The Centauri don’t feel like the enemy.”
He shook his head at it all. “The damnedst part of it is…if the Centauri fire on me, then it’s AMF for them.” He pretended to wrap one hand around a joystick and, with his thumb, squeeze the trigger button. His voice was cold and bitter.
“‘Adios, mother–‘” He smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, EF pilot lingo. You get the idea.”
“Hai,” she said with a smile of her own, at the same time amused and sorrowful.
When the lift slowed and opened onto Deck 2, the sorrow faded as she led the way to the galley. Darquin and Yoshino walked in just as the menu board flickered with an update. They joined a sparse, coalescing congregation near the glass-like serving counters and watched the hologram shimmer anew.
Yoshino nodded when the words appeared. “Taalor burgers.” As she read further, her smile widened a bit more. “Challaw Kadu, for the vegetarian dish. I see that Rashid-san managed to get herself assigned to the kitchen again, at least for a while.”
“I avoid veggies for ethical reasons,” Darquin said. “Their relatives get real mean.”
Yoshino raised an eyebrow, chuckling despite herself. “Nani?”
“Private joke. Long story.”
“You could tell me while we eat, if you like,” she said, as she began loading up her tray.
After bowing to their servers in thanks, they took their dinners to a table where Darquin told Yoshino about his last visit to an EarthForce recruitment office and the reception he got from the pro-Clark yokels afterward.
“…and I say something like, ‘Eating your relatives must really get on your conscience.’ So you can guess his kernel was gonna pop. He takes a swing at me, I sidestep, he goes flying. He turns around and swings for my legs, I do a quick vertical. He tries again. And again. And again. I’m there hopping like crazy and it reminds me of watching girls play jump-rope, so I start singin’, ‘I’m a pretty little Dutch girl–as pretty as can be–all the boys in the neighborhood–are crazy over me!’ That kinda took the juice out of ‘em. So I left.”
It was several long seconds before Yoshino could speak. Finally she was able to take her hand away from her mouth. Still chuckling, she said, “I wish I’d been there to see it.”
“It would’ve been nice, having an audience.” He took a swig from his glass of orcha juice, letting his mind wander, whistling a bridge from a Beatles number. “Funny…once we got official, it seems like being a Ranger doesn’t have as many perks.”
“How so?” she asked.
“Before the ISA, we were technically outlaws. We had a lot more freedom. We could bend the rules. Almost had to. Now we’re official and everyone’s watching. They have dirty little secrets and they want to keep us out.”
Yoshino nodded. “I suppose I’m showing where I come from, I’ve always thought about it in terms of duties, and not much else.”
“I don’t know what duty is,” he muttered. A specter passed over his face. “Every time, it means something new. A bunch of suits base it on where the profits are. And they make like they’re doing us a favor. They make their policies and map out the kill zones. But they don’t have to survive ‘em.”
Yoshino coughed hard, then swallowed the bite of stewed pumpkin that had caught in her throat. “Surely you don’t think that the President and Entil’zha are only interested in profit?”
He shook his head. “No, not them. Everyone else.”
She leaned forward across the table, silently praying that she sounded as sympathetic as she felt. “Please. What has hurt you so?”
She put her alabaster hand on his arm. He gave it with a welcome squeeze. The way she asked, tender and flaxen light, the fact that someone was asking….
His voice began to crumble. “War. I’m sick of it. Winning territory, losing people. Eating hate for breakfast. After the Line, I prayed I’d never see it again.”
She was silent for a long time, simply keeping a hold on his hand. Nothing she could think of seemed even close to adequate. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered at last. “You deserve better than this.”
To her surprise, he was beginning to blush.
He inhaled, gathering his forces. “Don’t we all.” He gave her a weary grin, invoking Japanese with a steetwise Osaka accent. “That’s giri fer ya, neh?”
She laughed, patting his hand one more time before releasing it. After a moment she said, “The Anla’shok understand bushido, that’s for certain. ‘We live for the One; we die for the One’ — any samurai would understand that completely.”
“I don’t think I could cut it as a samurai. A ninja, maybe.”
“Even the ninja had their codes, that they would not break.” It was her turn to have a haunted look. “The yakuza … they say they have a code. But they break it at whim.”
“I know it’s a brutal code.” He lay his hand on hers, burnt gold over silver, shielding her maimed hand. “You certainly deserved better…Marina-chan.”
“Arigato,” she said softly, then looked into his eyes. “I decided to make my own way. So far … it has been better.” She smiled.
“I guess we’re the same,” he said, smiling back. “Two ronin…serving a better code.”
Nodding, her ice-blue eyes lit up as a thought struck her. “You don’t have to go back on duty after dinner, do you? If you want, you could come over to my quarters and watch a movie. I just got a huge collection of jidai-geki on data crystal. Movies and old television.”
“Period dramas? ‘Story of the Last Chrysanthemum,’ things like that?”
“Hai. Chambara eiga as well.”
“Samurai flicks?” Darquin’s grin spread with child-like anticipation. “Got any Zatoichi?”
“Indeed, all the movies and all three television series.”
“Slick. Now there’s a character I can connect with. Didn’t Beat Takeshi do a series?”
“That’s right. The resolution is very good.” She did her best to keep her enthusiasm down.
He teased her with a distrustful glare. “You’re a Ranger all right. You play dirty. Count me in.”
Phoenix–“Baby, We’re The Same” © 2002 Jamie Lawson & Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2002 Warner Bros.