Change Manifest

Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Billy Nichols, Margaret Morgan

Kim wasn’t nearly as excited about arriving at Minbar as she might have been a couple days before. It was the third or fourth shuttle that she got on heading down to Tuzanor – it hardly mattered which. She didn’t really mind the clutter of people this time, voices ringing in her ears and her mind. Buoyant and noisy, they kept her from creating a clear thought on her worries.

Real, unfiltered air invaded the shuttle cabin. They had landed softly, and conversation lifted to a level of excitement that drowned out the mechanics of opening hatches. Kim’s first breath was bracing, with the scent of snow soon to arrive. She tugged her coat more closely around her and followed the pack out on to the tarmac.

A walk of several meters and then they were filtering into the greeting areas and cuing up at the transit system entrance. Kim turned herself towards the latter, when suddenly someone caught her arm, sending a psychic shock of familiarity through her body.

“Will!” she gasped, and for a few moments it was the only coherent thing she said. She turned and threw her arms around Billy Nichols, startling him as much as he had done to her. It only took him an instant though, before he returned the embrace.

“What happened?” Kim was starting to make sense, even if it came in a rush. “I tried contacting you at B5 and it was as if you didn’t exist! And Reece didn’t know…”

“Sorry. Had to get out, fast. Ended up crewing on a ship making a long loop.”

“Why?”

Billy hesitated, then stepped backward, out of way of others. Kim let herself be drawn over to one of the little niches, but she didn’t have the patience to sit still at the bench set there.

In spite of the relative privacy, Billy spoke in an undertone. “PsiCorps had been nosing around, a lot. Sure you heard about Byron and his telepaths.”

“Of course, it’s been all over the news. But why would PsiCorps be after you? It’s not a crime to know telepaths.”

“You’d be surprised,” Billy said drily, “but it’s not that.” He looked around then, his whole manner paranoid, even though he was on Minbar, days away by hyperspace from any government that cared about what PsiCorp wanted. “I’m an empath, I think. I don’t know that PsiCorp has ever found a… natural one.” The words came haltingly, as if he had had to pry them out of his throat.

Kim stared. It took a while to process and believe what he had said. Last time they’d been together, she thought he might have been a very low level telepath, or at the least sensitive, but this… She’d have found it more likely to discover that PsiCorps had a personal vendetta against her, and was intending to use Billy to satisfy that goal.

Hell, being told she was the lost heir to the Imperial throne of Japan would have been easier to grasp.

Billy shrugged and looked away. “It’s not good for anything. Not that I’d use,” he said quietly. She was reacting just as he feared she might.

“How long have you been here?” Kim stalled, and found it could get worse, at least by her reckoning.

“Not quite a week. I had to crew on a cargo ship on the Orion Colonies run.”

“Nearly a week and you didn’t call!”

Billy grimaced and took a step back from her temper. “Couldn’t.”

“Not even once you got here?” It was quickly becoming an interrogation.

“Busy first, and then… You were almost here. Wanted to surprise you.”

“Busy with what?”

“Testing. For placement.”

Kim was ready to do violence, and she wasn’t sure if it was for all he hadn’t done or said, or his increasingly reluctant replies. Probably both. “In what?”

“For Ranger training.”

Kim sat down then. The bench was hard and cold and most importantly real, anchoring her in the moment. Her anger had gotten lost somewhere in the confusion. “I half-expect you to tell me now you’re related to Valen. Are you serious?”

Billy couldn’t find a smile, but he nodded and dared to look at her again. “I need a challenge. I was… stagnating. Never mind the danger.”

“That’s incredible. And I’ve overloaded.” A wry smile tugged up the corners of Kim’s mouth.

It was encouraging enough to let Billy sit down next to her. “I had to do something.”

“Just call me next time, okay? I was worried sick, and not the only one.”

“I’m sorry.”

Kim leaned over then and put her arms around him again. More gently this time, but as sincere. And she said what she had meant to say at the start – the only thing that mattered. They could talk about the rest later. “Thank goodness you got out all right.”

“I wanted to call before I left, but…” Billy began again.

“I’m just glad it’s over.”

Billy finally smiled, and held on a little more tightly. “It is. I’m staying put for a bit, I promise.”

“I hope so,” Kim said, mirroring his expression. “I can hardly believe you’re here, and while I’ve actually got leave.”

“Always had this place in mind, when I started planning to leave. Knew I’d get to see you for at least a few minutes,” he dared to tease.

Kim sighed at him. “I see you’ve accepted the stereotype of Rangers. I’ll have you know I get at least a half hour off each week.”

Billy’s eyes widened, trying not to laugh, but a chuckle escaped regardless.

“I thought you knew better,” Kim continued playfully, “And I thought you might be a little more enthusiastic about seeing me too…”

“Who says I’m not?” Billy murmured.

Must I be psychic to know?”

Billy licked lips suddenly gone dry, then slowly leaned in.

They had stopped talking, but other people passing by noticed and talked, some chuckles to be heard if either of them were even trying to listen. And just before kiss and embrace passed from acceptable enthusiasm of long separation to incautious public display, Meg Morgan’s voice cut through the haze, barely a couple steps away.

“So this is where you’ve been lurking,” Meg didn’t have to speak loudly. It was enough to make the couple snap apart, faces burning. She almost forgot her anger at Billy – he’d worried them for nothing – just by seeing the shade of red he achieved from his collar to the tips of his ears. Meg couldn’t help testing it further. “You’d better be careful – the Religious Caste especially gets a little… uptight,” she teased.

“I wonder if they’d get uptight if we tossed you into the fountain,” Kim grumbled, putting her coat and her hair back to order.

Billy did the same, but he was too embarrassed to even complain, his eyes fixed on the ground.

Meg grinned and gave them a quick wave. “I will see you in a few days, I imagine,” she said, earning a glare from Kim that one would only dare to turn on a friend. Meg chuckled, stepped back quickly, and headed off on her own errands with an easier step.

Billy looked up finally, making sure she was really gone.

“Want to get out of here?” Kim asked immediately.

“Good idea.” Billy reached for her hand, helped her up from the bench and took her off in an entirely different direction than Meg.

He led her eventually into a residential section that catered a more to the comforts of foreigners, and they saw a greater mix of people than was yet to be seen inside the Anla’shok complex. Billy had a card to unlock one of the ground floor doors of a modest apartment building that folded itself around three sides of a small garden.

“Don’t know when my class will fill enough to start, so they’ve given me this,” Billy said as he closed the door behind them.

Kim set down her backpack, glancing about. Sparsely furnished in the Minbari fashion, without any sign of Billy’s character, it was nonetheless private and comfortable. “I didn’t realize so much could change, so quickly,” she said finally.

“I know. But I know one thing that hasn’t,” he replied softly. Kim turned to look to look at him, ‘hearing’ the beginnings of deeper emotions at the edge of her mental barriers. Billy was smiling, without embarrassment or shadows tainting his words. “I love you,” he said.

Kim’s smile answered, and she stepped over to quietly resume what had been interrupted.


Copyright (c) 2002 Leslie McBride and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.